Ronnie Earle’s Baggage brings KBH Indictment back into spotlight
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?
It’s the first line of the famous New Years Eve song, Auld Lang Syne, but is it something our distinguished Senior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would like to hear? Not really, because it’s not just an acquaintance but a nemesis in former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and his decision to run for Lt. Governor that will surely bring a dark period in her life back into the public eye.
That dark period includes a criminal investigation as a result of the order to purge computer tapes and the deletion of records that led to a grand jury indictment of KBH after abusing her power as State Treasurer.
In 1994, the Houston Press did an investigative piece that included the word of non-partisan career technology professionals with no axe to grind because of politics.
“For more than a year, as Hutchison launched the campaign that would elevate her to the U.S. Senate, Travis County prosecutors conducted a low-level investigation into rumors of abuses by her staff. But given the lack of physical evidence, the probe was going nowhere.
“Then, on June 9, 1993, that suddenly changed. Four days after Hutchison’s victory in the U.S. Senate runoff, Wesley McGehee, racked by guilt, went to the D.A.’s office with his stunning revelation: the newly elected U.S. senator had ordered the destruction of embarrassing state records. Burkett would later produce evidence of this: his tape, which he carted into a Travis County grand-jury room in a pizza box.
“[Kay Bailey Hutchison] pursued the deletion of records even after the treasurer’s office faced criminal investigation for misusing state employees and equipment. This meant that the treasurer of the state of Texas was ordering subordinates to destroy what was likely to become evidence.
Hutchison would be lucky, a Judge quickly turned Ronnie Earle’s plan on its ear by forcing a jury to acquit the future Senator – keeping her from ever being tried again because of the double-jeopardy law. What it didn’t do, is make the evidence go away and was later revealed to the Dallas Observer.
“It is worth noting that grand-jury testimony is unchallenged, taking place behind closed doors, without any cross-examination of the accusers; only the grand jurors, the witnesses and the prosecutors are present.
“That said, it’s clear that the secret Hutchison files paint an extraordinary — and unflattering — portrait of Texas’ junior U.S. senator. They offer striking insights into the nature of the criminal case against her as well as her personality, leadership style and temperament. Hutchison’s acquittal notwithstanding, these remain critical issues for voters assessing her fitness for public office.
“The Hutchison files also make clear that the senator’s claims about the political origins of her prosecution are nonsense.
“Beginning in June 1993, 33 witnesses testified under oath before the grand jury. Most of them were Republicans, and were her own hand-picked aides and associates; 26 worked at the Treasury.
“More important, the Hutchison files reveal how one of Texas’ top elected officials carried on extensive political operations out of the Treasury — ignoring, several staffers testified, repeated complaints that the practice was improper. They also show that, after her office’s political activities were partially revealed, she personally directed a laborious effort to cover up evidence of wrongdoing.
“Collectively, the files describe an obsessive, demanding and paranoid woman who was at times brutal to her staff, berating and pinching aides, and even, in one now-legendary incident, whacking a subordinate on the shoulder with a notebook.
The article goes on to talk about what is widely known to be the case: Kay Bailey Hutchison is a paranoid cold person with a history treating people in a demeaning manor.
“Hutchison clearly perceived Austin as brimming with political enemies, according to a second deputy treasurer, Michael Barron. She was ‘constantly almost in a state of paranoia,’ Barron testified [to the grand jury.] ‘From day one, she announced to us that [executive assistant in the governor’s office] Paul Williams was out to get her; that [Democratic Comptroller] John Sharp was out to get her; that everybody in the Legislature was out to get her.
In fact, the Senator is known for having “purse boys” according to former Bush speechwriter Matt Larimer. In his book Speechless, he talks about an episode in which he writes :
“As the elevator proceeded downward, the senator turned to her J. Crew aides. They were ‘the purse boys.’ That was the nickname staffers gave them because their job seemed to consist of carrying Sen. Hutchison’s purse around Capitol Hill. They also were known to drive her from her house to work – a distance of approximately two blocks. They were basically taxpayer-subsidized butlers. This was an unusual day, since normally only one purse boy was with Sen. Hutchison at a time. (The other must have been a trainee). As one of the boys quietly held her large purse, she started to fish through it. Then she issued a list of instructions.
“Now I want you to take my purse back to the office,” she said.
“Yes, senator,” the purse boy responded.
“Take the nail polish out and put it in the refrigerator.”
“Take the rest of the makeup out and put that in the refrigerator too.”
“Then put the purse by my desk.” She said this as though it were her routine speech.
The purse boy nodded dutifully, and the trainee looked like he wanted a pen to jot all this down. Elizabeth and I gazed at each other uncomfortably. I felt a little like entering your parents’ bedroom and finding your mother putting on deodorant. It was something you knew happened, but you didn’t really want to think about. Then the elevator doors opened. We moved to the side to let KBH pass. She did so regally, without a word to either of us, the purse boys following close behind. In those few minutes, my enthusiasm for KBH sunk to a previously unfathomable low.
In the Houston Press article, her demanding management style (and that is putting it lightly) came to light as well:
“Four Hutchison aides — Ammann, Snead, Babin and Berry — testified that they told their boss she was making them perform too many personal and political tasks on state time. Snead testified that she and Stephanie Nooner complained to Hutchison so frequently, and the treasurer reacted so poorly, that they began flipping a coin to decide who would take on the task of raising the issue yet again.
“Snead said she urged Hutchison to install a separate phone line for her personal and political calls — a change that Hutchison ultimately approved. The treasurer refused, however, to open a campaign office in Austin, as many of her fellow statewide officeholders have done. (She instead instructed staffers, the women testified, to use the Austin office of her husband’s law firm for time-consuming tasks.) Nor would Hutchison follow their suggestion to use campaign funds to hire a traveling aide, another common practice among politicians trying to avoid blurring the lines between state and political obligations.
“I don’t like to say that she just didn’t care, but she didn’t — I mean she expected us to do what she told us to do,” Snead testified. “And she just didn’t want to hear when we would tell her, you know, ‘We just don’t feel comfortable doing this.’ She would say, you know, ‘Do it. That’s nonsense. Just do it.’
“Shortly after Hutchison appointed [her] her top deputies, she gave the pair an article written by the governor’s chief of staff in another state; she told them the article’s thinking reflected ‘her philosophy in total,’ [according to grand jury testimony.] “The article said that the staff of an elected official needed to remember that they were not elected by anyone; that the elected official was the elected person and the staff was only there to serve the elected official.
The Houston Press article gives case after case demonstrating how she treats her staff, which can only be classified as demeaning.
As Ronnie Earle campaigns for the job as Lt. Governor, surely he will be asked about the indictment. Surely, it will be news, considering if both politicians get what they want – elected – they will have to work together. Certainly makes for an interesting next few months in Texas.