Tom DeLay: the next Speaker of the House or the next political casualty?

By Andrew Hammond

As fearful as I am of the prospect of another four years of the Bush administration, when I think about our government ten or twenty years from now, I do not think of Cheney or Rumsfeld or even Dubya. They will be relegated to recent history. When I think of whom to fear in the Republican Party in the next decade, one name comes to mind: Tom DeLay.

DeLay, the current Majority Leader in the House, is a Texas Republican who is notorious for his ruthless tactics both on the Hill and in the Lone-Star State.

Tom DeLay has proven himself to be a formidable leader in Congress. Dubbed “the hammer” for his ability to consistently create majorities on the House floor, DeLay has worked incessantly to ascend the ranks of House leadership—a meteoric rise that resembles that of Newt Gingrich in the early ’90s. DeLay has changed lobbying on Capitol Hill by refusing to meet with firms that do not have Republicans on their payroll. As a result, K Street (the Beltway term for the lobbyist groups) has done exactly that: hire many former members of Tom Delay’s congressional staff. One of his Republican colleagues described his office as “a cross between the concierge at the Plaza and the Mafia. They can get you anything you want, but it’s going to cost you.”

In recent months, it has become clear what DeLay wants—to become the next Speaker of the House—and with the redistribution of the congressional delegation of his home state of Texas, that dream could become a reality in the next ten years.

In 2002, the Republicans had won a majority in the Texas House for the first time since 1873. Early in the 2003 legislative session, Delay demanded that the legislature pass a new congressional district map that would reapportion the 30 representatives that speak for the state in Washington, D.C. Delay, despite having no legal authority or business in the state assembly, saw the new redistricting plan passed thanks to his friend, the new Texas house speaker Tom Craddick.

The new map creates six new safe seats for Republicans while jeopardizing ten previously safe Democratic seats. This November, DeLay will have several new colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives who will have him to thank for their victories. They can show their gratitude to the Majority Leader by propelling him to the speakership when Dennis Hastert retires. That is, if DeLay is not found guilty of corruption first.

The district attorney of Travis County, Ronnie Earle, has launched a criminal investigation into the actions of a group called Texans for a Republican Majority—a political action committee set up by Delay and his staff whose sole purpose was to secure a GOP majority in the Texas House. DeLay has denounced the investigation as partisan and vindictive, but Earle, a D.A. for over 30 years, points out that he has prosecuted 15 elected officials in the past: 11 Democrats and 4 Republicans.

Besides, when we look at the facts of the case, we see that Earle has probable cause for his inquiry. Earle believes that Texans for a Republican Majority indirectly violated an old state law that bars any corporate money from directly influencing a state election. Texans for a Republican Majority raised over $1.5 million in the campaign season. During this time, the organization transferred $190,000 of “soft money” (i.e. corporate money) to the Republican National Committee. Less than a month later, the RNC gave DeLay’s organization that same amount—$190,000—in the form of “hard dollars” (money donated by individuals) to seven GOP candidates in crucial Texas House races. A coincidence? I doubt it.

Tom DeLay’s PAC exchanged the corporate money it had raised but could not use in the state for “hard money” contributions from the national committee—a clever, but illegal, tactic. Now, Earle has issued more than 50 subpoenas to various individuals, including DeLay’s good friend, none other than Tom Craddick.

If DeLay does manage to survive this debacle, his credibility as a candidate for Speaker of the House will be severely weakened. Maybe next time, DeLay will choose not to pull the strings in Texas that he has become so adept at using in Congress.