Posted on October 03, 2005 in Washington Watch

Tom DeLay, the powerful Republican Majority Leaders in the US Congress, has been indicted by a Texas grand jury for violations of that state’s campaign finance laws. As a result, DeLay has been forced to resign his House leadership post.

While maintaining that the resignation is only temporary, awaiting the outcome of his court case, Republican members of Congress moved quickly to select a replacement and DeLay was forced to move from his extraordinary and opulent suite of offices in the Capitol Building to more modest quarters across the street.

Two observations: Congressional ambitions being what they are, DeLay shouldn’t expect his replacement to simply step aside if he is exonerated in court. And after reading the comments made by his fellow Republican Congressmen, there doesn’t appear to be an outpouring of support for the fallen leader. Some are angry, to be sure, but most Republican members appear to be cautious, even worried, more about their own fate, if DeLay is convicted. Some have already announced that they will be returning contributions that DeLay’s PAC made to their election campaigns.

DeLay’s career has been marked by his drive to power and his smart but tough use of power once he obtained it. Because, in politics, money is power and vice versa, DeLay has long been a master of the use of both. He won his 1994 election as “whip” of the Republican caucus in Congress by cashing in on the two million dollars he had contributed to help elect his colleagues.

Once in the leadership he turned his attention to, what he termed “changing the political culture of Washington,” by which he meant putting more Republicans in positions of influence outside of Congress. With Republicans in control, DeLay made it clear to lobbyists that if they wanted influence, they had better have Republicans in leadership roles. He pressured corporate and trade associations to hire Republicans and to contribute to Republican PACs and candidates. “Friendly” lobbyists were invited inside to help draft legislation, those deemed unfriendly, were locked out.

As a result of his efforts DeLay was able to dramatically increase the amount of contributions to Republican campaigns. His personal efforts alone raised and contributed $12.5 million for 160 Congressional campaigns in just the past six years.

Power, it is said, corrupts. So does the quest for power and the desire to hold onto and expand it. For his abuse of power and/or fundraising efforts, DeLay has on five separate occasions, been criticized or warned by the House Ethics Committees for infractions.

The Texas indictment springs from more of the same–DeLay’s ingenious effort to force a redistricting of Texas’ congressional map to create more Republican friendly districts. To accomplish this, DeLay first had to shift control of Texas’ state legislature from Democratic to Republican control and then have the Republican legislature order a redrawing of the congressional map. And to do this DeLay needed to pour money into the election campaign of Republican legislators.

Because Texas state law forbade the use of corporate money in state elections, the indictment alleges that DeLay and his allies engineered the laundering of about $200,000 in corporate checks so as to be able to use them in state elections. In the end the effort worked. Republicans won control of the legislature in 2002, redistricted the state and added five more Republicans to the US Congress in 2004.

Despite his heady victories, DeLay is now in trouble. Still feared by some of his colleagues, revered by others, most now see him as a scandal-ridden liability to the party. With five rebukes from the ethics committee in eight years, an ongoing investigation into his relationship with controversial Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and now this Texas indictment–many Republicans agree with the stunning blow delivered by the very conservative New Hampshire Union-Leader newspaper:

“If DeLay is right that the indictment was politically motivated, then he has finally received a taste of his own medicine. DeLay has used his position to crush Democrats at every conceivable opportunity, and he has overstepped ethical bounds to do so. DeLay wields power for one purpose: to enrich and empower himself and his allies.

Even if the indictment is entirely meritless, DeLay is an embarrassment as a majority leader. His mania for power and disregard for good government reflect poorly on all Republicans. Because House rules forced DeLay to step down as majority leader, House Republicans have a rare opportunity to replace a leader who has shamed the party with one who is more concerned with passing good laws than humiliating his political opponents. They should take it.”

DeLay faces an additional hurdle. He must win reelection in his own district in 2006, and this may not prove to be an easy task. Over the last decade DeLay’s margins of victory have steadily declined from 74% – 24% in 1994 to 55% – 45% in 2004. Most of his opponents were little known and underfunded (for example, in 2000 an 80-year old woman spending less than $7,000, against DeLay’s $1.3 million, still garnered 36% of the vote). This year DeLay will face a well-funded opponent, former Congressman Nick Lampson, ironically one of the Democrats ousted by DeLay’s 2002 redistricting scheme!

End Note: It goes without saying that Arab Americans and those concerned with Middle East peace will shed no tears over DeLay’s fall from grace. The Congressman has long been a fierce opponent of all things Palestinian and Arab. In the 1990’s he opposed President Clinton’s proposal to provide aid request to the West Bank and Gaza. When President Bush proposed $20 million to support Palestinians elections, DeLay reprogrammed the money to pay an Israeli utility bill. He even forced humiliating conditions on President Bush’s recent aid designed to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. De Lay, who once called himself, “an Israeli of the heart,” also rejected President Bush’s support of a Palestinian state, calling it a “sovereign state of terrorists” and he even denied that there is any such thing as “occupied territory.” During his tenure as leader DeLay repeatedly pressured his Republican colleagues to vote for pro-Israel, anti-Arab legislation, even when the bills were opposed by the Bush Administration. He will not be missed.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

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