Monday, July 10, 2006

Tom DeLay's long goodbye

Tom DeLay is starting to remind me of a John Belushi character, The Thing That Wouldn't Leave.

The Thing (on Saturday Night Live) showed up at a friend's apartment, wreaked havoc, and hung out in perpetuity, oblivious to his host's pleas that he shove off. The big difference, in DeLay's case, is that even though his hosts in the Texas Republican party dearly want him to shove off, he might nevertheless be compelled by the courts to stay and hang out, potentially wreaking havoc all the way to November.

Several months ago, it appeared that the GOP had solved its Thing problem. Freshly indicted for alleged campaign-finance violations, the avatar of the House Republican conservatives had announced he would quit his suburban Texas seat and take his name off the re-election ballot in November, thereby insuring that a corruption-free Republican could vie for that seat in a year when the outcome of every House race could be crucial. DeLay established resident in Alexandria, Virginia, hoping to demonstrate that he was no longer a Texas citizen.

But late last week, the scheme was derailed by a federal judge, who decreed that DeLay can't be disqualified from the ballot on residency grounds -- because in fact DeLay still owns a home in bucolic Sugarland. (A nice house, too. I drove past it last year. An American flagpole in the front yeard, a golf course bordering the backyard.) Result: DeLay is still on the ballot, still the candidate who would have to face the well-financed and well-known Democrat, Nick Lampson. And Lampson's best hope is that DeLay stays there. (Election-law experts generally predict that the judge's ruling will be upheld on appeal.)

That brings us to the quote of the day, courtesy of Capitol Hill's Roll Call tabloid newspaper. This comes from James Bopp, the lawyer for the Texas GOP, who is mightily ticked off that DeLay is still in the picture: "This is election by litigation. You just wonder why we even have elections at all. It's just an effort to steal a seat. (Democrats) don't care about voter choice or democracy, they just care about power."

Let's unpack that one: (1) DeLay, from Washington, engineers a plan to elect GOP majorities in both chambers of the Texas legislature, so that said legislature can redraw the boundaries of congressional districts in a way that makes it easier to elect more Republican congressmen and kick out incumbent Democrats (2) DeLay's plan unfolds in mid-decade, thereby breaching the tradition that such boundary-redrawings take place once every ten years, at the start of each new decade (3) DeLay raises allegedly illegal corporate money, to help fund the races of his Texas legislature candidates, and winds up under criminal indictment....and it's the Democrats who "just care about power"?

Strangely, Bopp never assailed the presiding federal judge as a "liberal judicial activist." Maybe that's because the judge who has kept DeLay on the ballot is, in fact, a Republican appointee, tapped for the job in 1991 by the president's father.