Now that it’s clear that Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, did indeed mislead everyone about his involvement in a land deal that one of his companies negotiated with the Tennessee Valley Authority, constituents will be forced to make a character judgment that could stick for the rest of his political career.
This controversy could be a turning point in a political career that just a short while ago seemed to be arcing upward, or it may merely fall by the wayside. Either way, the sad fact is that the entire controversy was self-inflicted.
The land swap involved a Tennessee real estate development in which Shuler was a partner. Apparently, there was an agreement to swap parcels to provide the Shuler development better water access. It’s a routine matter with the TVA, and the agreement was apparently agreed to before Shuler ever became a congressman.
The problem arose when rumors began flying that Shuler pressured the TVA into making the deal. Shuler sits on a committee that oversees the TVA, and he repeatedly told the press he did not contact the agency about the deal.
As it turns out, Shuler did — according to the TVA — call the top TVA official and complain about the land deal happening too slowly. If the TVA is to believed, then Shuler was lying.
Shuler’s office — the congressman himself isn’t talking to reporters — hasn’t addressed the revelations about the contradiction, only telling all media who ask that the congressman was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case, and that Shuler has been cleared by the House Ethics Committee, federal authorities and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). All agree he did not use his office to influence the outcome of the land swap.
But the question now left for constituents to ponder was included in the TVA final report: “Specifically, if all of this was above board, why did TVA and Shuler feel compelled to tell the media that there was no contact between the congressman and TVA in relation to the Maintain and Gain application? There obviously was,” the report reads.
Lies, little or big, have sunk more politicians than any bribe or sexual misconduct. And in a very conservative district, this could spell trouble. Shuler will, of course, be attacked from Republicans who want to take this seat back. He’s also taking heat from his own party for a voting record that swings as far right as any Democrat in Congress.
In the end, this mistake will likely be written off as a political miscue from a relatively green newcomer to the arena of big-time politics. We hope that’s the case, and that Shuler and his handlers learn a valuable lesson about dealing with the public and the press.