The Hutchison Indictment


Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was elected last June 5, and instantly became a national figure in the forefront of the rapidly growing move of women into high political office. Now she stands indicted on charges of using her previous office -- state treasurer -- for personal and political purposes, then trying to cover that up. The basic charge involves her having state employees use phones and other facilities to help her in her Senate race for the Senate. She says, not unreasonably, she is the victim of a political hatchet job.

Everybody knows office holders routinely use public facilities and staff for such purposes, without penalty. This is true not just in Texas but especially in Texas, a big state with a tradition of political laissez-faire. A recent poll showed 69 percent of Texans believe the practice is common. Only 25 percent think the indictment was based on the merits of the case.

The Hutchison indictment was produced by a 12-member grand jury that was overwhelmingly Democratic and managed by a state prosecutor who had sought unsuccessfully to run against Mrs. Hutchison in the Senate race as the Democratic nominee. He seized evidence against her in a raid less than a week after the election.

But the indictment cannot be dismissed so easily. It charges Ms. Hutchison and aides tampered with government records to hide their activities. If true, it suggests she knew what she had been doing was illegal. This is the very sort of obstruction of justice that turns relatively small crimes into very big ones.

Ms. Hutchison has asked for a quick trial so she may run for re-election next year without this cloud over her. She deserves that.

Some general good may come out of this, whatever the verdict. Public attention will be focused on the way officeholders use and often abuse their staff, facilities and perks for political purposes. More than almost anything else, this widespread practice is responsible for the fact that incumbents almost always win re-election.

Congress is ready for reform in this area, as such public-interest nags as Common Cause and Ralph Nader keep saying. Ross Perot ought to put this high on his list of things his constituency can help bring about.

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