Democrats have not yet officially ascended to power in D.C., but the early headlines coming out of Washington are not flattering to a party whose national campaign this fall included ethics and corruption as one of its central features.
To begin with, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi stumbled out of the gate in November by backing Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha for the House Majority Leadership post (Murtha lost to Maryland's Steny Hoyer). Pelosi seemed slow to learn that as Democrats rose to power in Election 2006 by taking advantage of the appearances of impropriety in various congressional ethics scandals (e.g. knocking out incumbents who seemed too close to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, such as Montana Senator Conrad Burns), that the media will now turn its lens more closely on the Democrats, the new majority party, to unearth any questionable ethical behavior of its members.
Murtha was linked and investigated (though never charged or convicted) in the Abscam bribery sting in 1980, and an embarrassing videotape with Murtha discussing (though ultimately declining) a bribe was recently unearthed. Though Murtha's own constituents made peace with this puzzling incident years ago, Murtha had to defend himself once again, this time on the national stage. This is not the sort of portrait the Democratic Party wanted to unveil just days after winning an important election, partially on the ethics issue.
The latest batch of bad news for the Democrats came this weekend out of Louisiana, where 8-term Democratic incumbent William Jefferson defeated State Representative Karen Carter 57% - 43% in a runoff election for the state's 2nd District seat. Jefferson is the target of an FBI corruption probe; the fruits of the federal investigation included $90,000 seized in a controversial search of the congressman's home and office. The national Democratic Party (as well as the Louisiana Democratic Party) steered clear of the congressman, but Jefferson's retail politics won over his constituents, despite a likely indictment looming over the incumbent.
Neither one of these incidents taken individually is going to hurt the Democrats in 2008, but it is a troubling start for a party that regained power by winning over many independents in 2006 who had been turned off by Republicans due to a series of individual ethical problems. If the Democrats wish to retain power in 2008, the time is now to make sure their House stays clean.