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Texas-Sized Indictment

IN politics, one is often guilty before proven innocent. That is a burden now facing the Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas in the wake of her indictment by a grand jury on charges of misconduct while state treasurer.

She will likely face a Texas-sized challenge in retaining her seat in 1994 and her position as a rising star in the Republican Party.

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Political clouds have a way of lingering even if legal ones have cleared, though it should be noted that Texas conforms to its own meteorology. Thus it is important that Ms. Hutchison's case be handled fairly by the courts and that the public show patience in seeing it through. She at least deserves her day in court.

Hutchison, elected just 16 weeks ago, denies the allegations of using the state treasurer's office for personal and political gain and destroying records as part of a coverup.

She says the charges are the product of a political vendetta by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

Mr. Earle did once seek the seat Hutchison now holds. He has also, however, indicted three other high-profile Texas politicians over the years, all Democrats. Moreover, the grand jury that handed up the charges against Hutchison stressed that the inquiry had been handled independent of ``politics and political persuasion.''

No matter what the motives in this case, we hope it doesn't escalate into a war between Republicans and Democrats, with the legal system as the weapon. Texas politics has never been of the velvet-glove variety. But lately it has been nastier than usual. Already there is talk of Republicans scrutinizing the records of leading Democrats in the next election.

Where wrongdoing exits, it must be rooted out. But even Texas shouldn't engage in a political cleansing.

As for Hutchison, if acquitted quickly, she could still do well at the ballot box next year. She was, after all, elected in a landslide last June in what historically has been a Democratic state. A guilty verdict or prolonged trial, though, will probably make her tenure short.

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If so, that will mean another substantial turnover in the US Senate, since six members have already announced plans to retire when this Congress ends.

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