April 05, 2006
Why leave now, Tom?

The WaPo addresses some of the questions surrounding Tom DeLay's sudden departure from the scene.

Under siege from state and federal probes into his actions and those of his closest aides and advisers, Rep. Tom DeLay had considered resigning on several occasions over the past four months. But he waited until after he had vanquished his challengers in the Republican primary to deny them the chance to become his successor, associates said.

In other words, he wants to name his replacement. You can be sure that the panel of precinct chairs selected from the four counties in CD22 will consider his wishes strongly when they anoint the Chosen One.

DeLay's decision was also provoked by recent poll results that showed he faced a stiff challenge in November, the associates said.

In other words, he was too scared by the prospect of losing to fight.

They also cited what the Texas Republican has privately described at his frustration at no longer being a part of the House leadership, and his diminished satisfaction with rank-and-file congressional life.

This is Rick Casey's opinion as well.

What may well be the biggest driving factor:

An additional impetus for putting off the resignation until now was suggested by John Feehery, a former aide to DeLay and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "He needed to raise money for the defense fund. That was the bottom line," Feehery said. "He wanted to make sure he could take care of himself in the court of law." Under federal campaign rules, any reelection money a lawmaker raises can be used to pay legal fees stemming from official duties.

Vince noted that DeLay sent out a fundraising letter the day after he told Time Magazine he'd decided to resign. Anyone who responded to that letter with a check will have actually given their money to DeLay's phalanx of attorneys. I wonder how those folks feel about that now.

Of course, DeLay has very good reasons to see to the care and feeding of his lawyers.

[L]egal experts said DeLay should be worried that federal prosecutors seemed to have him in their sights.

"They've penetrated his inner sanctum with a guy who says he was doing things in his office," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who's defended about two dozen cases involving official corruption charges. "This case is just beginning."

Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, said DeLay's former aides almost certainly were feeling intense pressure to pass along any damaging information they had about their former boss or any other member of Congress.

[Tony] Rudy and [Mike] Scanlon each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for their admitted crimes. [Jack] Abramoff faces up to 30 years. Passing along helpful information could save them years behind bars.

"In order to get substantial credit, you have to be able to give something," Saltzburg said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure on his former aides, if there's anything there, to cooperate. People have a motive to point the finger, even if it shouldn't be pointed."


Brand, whose previous clients have included members of Congress, said it wasn't uncommon for lawmakers to shelve their political careers when faced with the possibility of criminal charges.

"He's going to face hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses if he gets charged and decides to defend himself," Brand said. "It's hard to focus on that and focus on re-election."

Interestingly, DeLay himself seems to think that Ed Buckham will be joining the parade of Felonious Ex-DeLay Staffers. He sure does seem to get betrayed a lot by people he trusted, doesn't he? Maybe it's time to update this diagram.

I'm still thinking through some of the possibilities for the special election, if one occurs. I disagree with David's approach, but I do think it's clear that the game will be rigged as best as it can be. I think that if the powers that be can unite behind a single candidate, like David Wallace, then they'll anoint him the nominee and push for a November special election. This accomplishes several goals: it allows Wallace (or whoever) to catch up on fundraising and campaigning, it ensures that a majority vote is needed to win, which blunts the impact of any gadflies (Tom Campbell, Steve Stockman) and sore losers (whoever does not get united behind in this scenario), and it gives their boy a chance at getting sworn in before January 2, which gives him a leg up on seniority. All they have to do is win and it's all good.

(UPDATE: This point is basically mooted by my belated realization that the special election is only for the unexpired term, and by the emerging consensus on the Republican side that there should be no special election at all. That obviously makes more sense for a united front/Chosen One scenario, whether it's Wallace or Eckels.)

A scary possibility is if Harris County Judge Robert Eckels decides he wants this job. If he's the Chosen One and the likes of Wallace and Charlie Howard decline to step aside, Governor Perry may find an excuse to skip a special election altogether (*) and just let Eckels, who already has decent name recognition and (I suspect) a pile of campaign cash, slug it out with Lampson in November. That's not even the scary part: In this scenario, Eckels, who is unopposed for reelection as County Judge, could effectively name his replacement, too. How much better that is, from a GOP perspective, than an open seat race for Judge in 2010, when Harris County may well be blue enough to flip it to the Dems. Whoever gets the free ride as his replacement would have four whole years to build up enough of a warchest to beat back or frighten off any decent challenger. How sweet is that? Sure does make you wish that someone had bothered to file against Eckels this year, doesn't it?

Like I said, I'm still contemplating. It would be a good idea if everybody gave this matter some thought, so we don't get caught unprepared whenever Perry announces his intentions.

(*) - I'm not sure if he can do this under the law, but as we've seen quite a few creative interpretations of our electoral code lately, I wouldn't put anything out of bounds just yet. Consider all the possibilities, that's all I'm saying.

UPDATE: I see at Elam's place that Perry is not required to call a special election. Former FBGOP Chair Eric Thode is arguing against having one. We shall see. I believe that if the Republicans can unite behind one candidate as the Chosen One, then they will have a much stronger chance at winning in November. I still believe that the risk of disgruntlement among the unanointed ones and their supporters is higher this way, however. For what it's worth, I don't envy them the decision. I'll say again - let's be thinking about this with them, people. We can't afford to be surprised.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 05, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

JRE would be a very, very good choice for the GOP. Especially if he can name is successor.

Posted by: Red Dog on April 5, 2006 5:36 PM