In a surprise twist to the Tom DeLay saga, the Texas Democratic Party filed suit Thursday in an attempt to keep the resigning Republican Congressman's name on the November ballot.
The suit, filed in Travis County 126th District Court, seeks to undo an hours-old declaration by Republican Party Chair Tina Benkiser that DeLay is ineligible to run in the general election.
If DeLay doesn't serve as the party's candidate for Congressional District 22, then according to the Texas Election Code, no other candidate is allowed to replace him, the suit says.
Lawyers for Houston's Riddle & Brazil law firm, which filed the action, obtained a temporary restraining order at about 5:10 p.m. from Judge Darlene Byrne. Sources familiar with the case said the order prevents Benkiser from calling a meeting of the so-called District Executive Committee or taking other measures to replace DeLay as the Republican Party nominee for CD-22.
Benkiser, the only defendant named in the suit, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
DeLay announced in early April that he would resign from Congress, move from Sugar Land to Virginia and thus be ineligible to run for re-election on the November general election ballot. Benkiser formally declared him ineligible Wednesday night.
But the suit says DeLay never intended to complete his run for re-election, and instead schemed to collect campaign contributions and convert them to his own use.
"DeLay deceived voters into giving him 'campaign contributions' - money he intends to use to pay his attorneys to defend him from criminal charges..." the suit states.
"DeLay has finally let voters in on his true intent: he wants to have his name removed from the ballot in November and replaced with another candidate while keeping the money contributed to his primary campaign, in clear violation of the Texas Election Code," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit filed Thursday called that a ruse. It cited a May article in Texas Monthly magazine in which former Fort Bend County GOP chair Eric Thode is reported to have known since early January that DeLay was planning to withdraw as a congressional candidate after the primary.
DeLay, the suit states, "knew before the primary that he intended to withdraw after the vote. He also knew that if he ran and won the primary and then withdrew, the party could not replace him on the ballot… DeLay's ruse, with the cooperation of the Republican Party, is to be administratively declared ineligible to hold office by reason of inhabitancy."
The lawsuit says that DeLay's attempt to be declared ineligible goes against state Election Code and the U.S. Constitution.