Jeralyn has written about Democrat Jay Fawcett, a candidate for congress in CO-5 (Colorado Springs), who has called on House Speaker Denny Hastert to resign over the fallout from Florida Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate (at best) e-mails to a congressional page. She also wondered if this was a scandal that would reach as far as Colorado, and judging from continued national reaction — as well as continuing local news coverage of the events – I think it will.

If you haven’t been following this story, news broke on Friday that Republican Rep. Mark Foley had been inappropriately e-mailing young male pages working in congress. Foley quickly resigned his seat, but then things got politically worse for Republicans when it was revealed that congressional leaders had known about Foley’s actions for months and hadn’t acted on it. Newspapers from the conservative Washington Times to the New York Times are now calling for heads to roll, and the news is a sharp blow to a Republican party that has always tried to win its elections on the notion that its candidates were more morally and fiscally responsible than Democrats. As the New York Times writes today:

History suggests that once a political party achieves sweeping power, it will only be a matter of time before the power becomes the entire point. Policy, ideology, ethics all gradually fall away, replaced by a political machine that exists to win elections and dispense the goodies that come as a result. The only surprise in Washington now is that the Congressional Republicans managed to reach that point of decayed purpose so thoroughly, so fast.

That House leaders knew Representative Mark Foley had been sending inappropriate e-mail to Capitol pages and did little about it is terrible. It is also the latest in a long, depressing pattern: When there is a choice between the right thing to do and the easiest route to perpetuation of power, top Republicans always pick wrong.

The news about Mr. Foley should have set off alarm bells instantly, even if the messages the leaders saw were of the “inappropriate” variety rather than the flat-out salacious versions that surfaced last week. But there was certainly no sense of urgency in their response, which seemed directed at sweeping the matter under the rug rather than finding out precisely what was going on…

…It’s astonishing behavior for a party that sold itself as the champion of conservative social values. But then so was the fact that a party that prides itself on fiscal conservatism managed to roll up record-breaking deficits, featuring large amounts of wasteful pork earmarked to the districts of powerful legislators or the profit sheets of generous campaign contributors. So was the speed with which the party that billed itself as the voice of grass-roots exurban and suburban America turned itself into the partner of every special-interest lobbyist with a checkbook.

The good news is that American democracy, so flawed in many ways, is often fairly efficient at punishing parties that become addicted to self-perpetuation. This November may not force Congress to come up with a plan for Iraq, or even immigration. But if it reminds elected officials that there’s a punishment waiting for those who fall in love with their own sense of entitlement, it will have done its job.

Republicans have always said that they were fiscally responsible, but then they quickly ran up a much bigger debt than ever existed under previous Democratic control. Thanks to disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay and others, we learned that Republicans were deeply tied to special interests to the disadvantage of the common Americans they claimed to defend. And now comes the news about Foley, which should be the final straw. No matter what Republicans did wrong, they always held “moral superiority” as their silver bullet in an election. If the public realizes the farce of that argument, then Republican candidates everywhere are in big trouble.

Here in Colorado, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave has already declared a social issue — gay marriage — to be the single most important issue in America today. But how can Musgrave now say with a straight face that “protecting families” is so important – when the leadership of her own party has turned the other cheek on serious transgressions right under their nose. How can Doug Lamborn, a Republican running against Fawcett in CO-5, still run on being part of the morally superior party?

There was already going to be a backlash against incumbents in congress this year because of low voter opinion on the job they are doing in Washington, but this latest scandal could be the proverbial straw on that poor old camel. Because if you are an average voter who doesn’t pay that much attention to each candidate, how could this Republican gaffe not matter to you? As the New York Times wrote: “When there is a choice between the right thing to do and the easiest route to perpetuation of power, top Republicans always pick wrong.”

In 2006, voters may not.