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August 11th, 2006:

DeLay endorses Lampson!

Okay, not really, but take a look at the letter he sent to the Texas Secretary of State, which was forwarded to me by an anonymous reader, and see what you think.

August 11, 2006

The Honorable Roger Williams
Secretary of State
P. O. Box 12697
Austin, Texas 78711

Dear Secretary Williams,

This letter is to inform you that by the attached sworn Certificate of Withdrawal, I am requesting that my name be omitted from the Nov. 7, 2006 general election ballot for the office of United States Congressman from District 22. It has been my pleasure to serve the people of the great State of Texas; however current circumstances, of which you are very much aware, compel me to take this action in order to ensure that the people of District 22 have the opportunity to elect a Congressman who truly represents their interests, goals and values. Thank you for your prompt consideration assistance in this matter.

Sincerely,
Tom DeLay

Emphasis mine. DeLay’s actions in withdrawing as he did have all but assured that Nick Lampson will be sworn in on January 2, 2007. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but truer words have never emanated from Tom DeLay.

Kinky goes after Strayhorn

You may recall this story from before in which Carole Keeton Strayhorn was accused of using employees in the Comptroller’s office to do campaign-related stuff. That has prompted Kinky Friedman to file a complaint with the Travis County DA’s office.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle responded by distributing to reporters his office’s policy manual, which states that criminal complaints filed by one candidate against another will not be investigated until after the election.

“It’s typical mudslinging politics. So much for Kinky not being a typical mudslinging politician,” Strayhorn spokesman Mark Sanders said, referring to the complaint.

[…]

A letter to Earle, written by Friedman campaign general counsel Blake Rocap, said that depending on the amount of state time used, “the comptroller could face first-degree felony charges carrying with them criminal punishment of a fine not exceeding $10,000 and life in prison.”

“We urge you to investigate this matter and take proper steps to ensure that no candidate misuses a public office for their personal political benefit,” Rocap told Earle.

Earle’s policy said such complaints can wait until after the election unless there is some compelling reason to believe time is of the essence.

“This policy is intended to avoid the appearance of the criminal justice system being used for political purposes,” the policy said.

That’s one way of looking at it. Friedman supporters would probably say that he’s the only one with the principles to buck the prevailing standard and demand accountability in a timely fashion. I think it’s more stunt than principle, since pretty much every DA operates this way (for better or worse), but it’s in line with his overall narrative, so I doubt Strayhorn’s countercharge will land much of a blow against him.

Strayhorn’s use of state resources also came under fire from the Republican re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Perry. The campaign posted video of Strayhorn using her state vehicle to attend a rally of opponents to the Trans-Texas Corridor in Waller County.

You can find that video here (WMV file). I haven’t had the time to watch it, but I’m told it’s pretty funny.

Also pretty funny:

Bell spokesman Jason Stanford said Friedman’s complaint against Strayhorn just made a weird governor’s race weirder.

“The statement that Kinky Friedman filed an ethics complaint against Carole Strayhorn, just that sentence, conveys levels of absurdity heretofore not known in Texas politics,” he said.

All things considered, I think Jason Stanford’s had better quips in this race than Friedman has had.

And an existential question:

The Libertarian nominee is James Werner.

Is there, like, a new style guide that all the reporters are using that requires them to mention Libertarian gubernatorial candidate James Werner in every campaign-related article? Because I swear, he’s there, Zelig-like, in every damn story. Anyone remember the LP guv candidate from 2002? (Answer: Jeff Daiell. He got 1.46% of the vote.) Will he ever get quoted in one of these pieces, or is he just a talisman that has to be invoked every time the race is mentioned? Weird, just weird.

DeLay speaks

Tom DeLay deigns to explain himself to Byron York.

Before he made up his mind, DeLay commissioned a poll of voters in the 22nd District. “My negatives were still high,” he told me, even though he retained a sizable core of strong supporters. The poll also found that several other Republican candidates would have a better chance against Democrat Nick Lampson. Even though DeLay believed he could still win if he mounted a vigorous campaign, the poll reinforced his belief that getting out was the right thing to do.

But his departure leaves questions. I asked him about critics who accuse him of being selfish for going through the Republican primary last March, defeating rival GOP candidates, and then pulling out of the race. “I don’t think it was selfish at all,” DeLay answered, explaining that he was caught between the requirements of running for office and dealing with his indictment, by the controversial Travis County, Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, on campaign-finance charges. “The political schedule didn’t match the legal schedule. When it was time to decide whether I was running for reelection or not, it was December [2005]. I was under indictment, and I was led to believe I could get to trial and have this indictment disposed of before the election, and possibly have it disposed of in January or February. I had to file [for reelection] because there was a filing deadline. So I filed, totally expecting that I would stay as Majority Leader after I had disposed of the indictment.”

But it didn’t work out that way. As the months passed, the Earle case dragged on, and some of his former top aides were charged in the Jack Abramoff investigation, DeLay told me, “it was obvious that it was in the best interests of the House for me to step aside as Majority Leader.” But after he stepped aside, he said, “I still had a primary to run.” DeLay said that one reason he felt it was important that he stay in the primary was that the other candidates who were in the race “were people who should not represent the 22nd District.”

I think that’s the first explanation of why DeLay dropped out when he did that he’s ever given. I’ve put together a little timeline of events:

DeLay was originally supposed to be arraigned on October 21. This was postponed due to his defense teams’ motion to recuse Judge Bob Perkins, whom DeLay accused of being politically biased against him.

This motion to recuse Judge Perkins was granted on November 1 by Presiding Judge B.B. Schraub.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle then filed a motion to recuse Judge Schraub on November 3.

Schraub agreed to stand down, and Judge Pat Priest was named to take over the trial on November 4. Priest had a bunch of motions before him to consider, including everything that Judge Perkins had originally ruled on.

Priest announced on November 23 that he would need two more weeks to rule on the motions to dismiss DeLay’s indictments.

On December 5, Priest threw out the conspiracy indictment against DeLay, but upheld the money laundering indictment. Both sides vowed to appeal the rulings on which they lost, with Priest informing DeLay that he couldn’t keep Earle from doing so even if it meant delays to the trial that might hurt him politically.

Earle asks for a stay of the trial until he appeals the dismissal of the conspiracy indictment on December 13.

The stay was granted on December 17.

The Court of Criminal Appeals gave Earle a week to respond to DeLay’s motion to dismiss the laundering indictment on December 28.

The filing deadline was January 2. DeLay abandoned his effort to remain Majority Leader on January 7. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected DeLay’s appeal of the money laundering indictment on January 9.

So, DeLay’s statement that he was up against a filing deadline makes some sense. You could argue that when Priest refused to toss the money laundering indictment on December 5, DeLay was taking a gamble, since it was far from a sure thing that the notoriously pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals would help him out. I can’t help but think that if he were lower down on the political food chain, he might have come under pressure to withdraw from the primary at that point rather than risk putting the party in a bind down the line. Obviously, no one was going to tell Tom DeLay any such thing. It’s interesting that he gave up trying to be Majority Leader before the CCA ruled against him, though. If that appeal had been what he was pinning his hopes on, then why quit pursuing the real prize before knowing what the outcome would be? Did he really think at that time that he’d have been content as a regular member of the delegation?

Even if you accept DeLay’s explanation for why he didn’t quit before the primary, there’s still the question of his actions since then. The article walks through all of the tired “eligibility” arguments, which every judge along the way rejected as bogus (I’m sure Justice Scalia appreciates all the kind words, by the way) and comes to the question of why not get back in now that he can’t be replaced.

As the issue was working its way through the courts, he had hinted that if he was forced to stay on the ballot, then he might resume the race for reelection. You Democrats want me to run? Well, you’ll get what you want. But with the reality of the court decisions, DeLay had to make a decision of his own. And that is when, last week, he took another poll. “It showed that nothing had changed since I made the decision right after the primary,” DeLay told me. “My negatives were still high. The polling showed that I probably had a 50-50 chance.”

But DeLay’s name wasn’t the only one on the poll. The survey also explored the chances of other possible Republican candidates for his seat. It asked about Harris County judge Robert Echols, Sugar Land mayor David Wallace (who yesterday declared his write-in candidacy), and a few others. “All of them tested better than me,” DeLay told me. And all of them, DeLay believed, had a chance to defeat Democratic candidate Nick Lampson. “This is still a Republican district, and will vote for a Republican over Nick Lampson.”

But at this point, the only way a Republican candidate will be on the ballot is as a write-in. “The poll shows that a write-in is doable, that it’s not impossible,” DeLay told me. “Certainly it’s an uphill battle, but it is doable.”

“Doable” is not the most optimistic assessment one might make, so I asked if DeLay is confident that a Republican will be elected. “No, I didn’t say that,” he told me. “I said that people in the 22nd District deserve a choice.”

“So are you confident?” I asked again.

“I’m not confident that I would win,” DeLay answered.

Bottom line is DeLay thinks a write-in effort is preferable to his fifty-fifty shot. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking that not too many of his fellow CD22 Republicans would agree, even the ones that voted for someone other than DeLay in the primary. Remember when some Republicans were calling a special election to fill DeLay’s unexpired term a freak show? That’s a night at the opera compared to the write-in follies. But hey, at least it isn’t DeLay who’ll suffer the embarrassing loss. He gets to retire with his winning streak intact. And isn’t that worth something?

Before I close this out, let me suggest one other possible reason why DeLay is steadfast about quitting. Going through my archives to put together that timeline, I was reminded that DeLay was officially put in the sights of the Abramoff investigation on November 26. Does he expect that particular noose to tighten around his neck as it did for Bob Ney? Just something to think about.

The Stakeholder and Juanita have more.

Today’s write-in madness

Confirming what we’d heard before, Shelley Sekula Gibbs will be a write-in candidate for CD22.

“It will be tough but not impossible” to win as a write-in, said Sekula-Gibbs, a Clear Lake dermatologist. “What I hope will happen is that the Republican Party will come together and select one candidate who will then receive their full backing. I hope that candidate is me.”

Good luck with that. If there’s been any word about who the One True Write-In will be after Tina Benkiser’s closed door meeting, I haven’t heard it. And there’s at least one GOP official whose support Sekula Gibbs won’t have.

Breaking ranks with state Republican Party leaders on Thursday, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert endorsed Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace’s write-in candidacy for Tom DeLay’s former congressional seat.

Almost simultaneously, Harris County Tax Collector Paul Bettencourt emerged as a potential candidate for the same position.

“I’m going to support David, and I’m going to ask other Fort Bend Republicans to vote for him,” Hebert said Thursday night. “If any Republican candidate can win in a write-in position in the 22nd District, it’s Wallace.”

The uncharacteristic endorsement might put Hebert on a collision course with Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser and local members of the State Republican Executive Committee, who met Wednesday to talk about supporting a single GOP write-in candidate to face Democrat Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither for the congressional seat.

Tom DeLay attended that meeting, and sources say he explained his reasoning for staying in the race through the primary, and then deciding to drop out, resign from Congress and become a Virginia resident by June.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Benkiser said in addition to the seven or eight people who’d run as replacement candidates for DeLay (before court rulings cut that effort short) some new candidates had emerged

The one name she mentioned was Bettencourt’s.

Feel the unity, people. Feel. The. Unity.

There’s an obvious problem with Bettencourt’s potential candidacy.

In a Thursday interview, Bettencourt said he received a phone call about the possibility of mounting a write-in campaign for DeLay’s seat. He said the call came from Republicans, but not Benkiser.

“I made it clear to the people that I talked to yesterday that it has to be a draft,” Bettencourt said, meaning the GOP would have to come together and ask him to run for the good of the party.

If that happens, “I will consider it carefully, because that’s part of the fiduciary responsibility of being a Republican. Sometimes,” he said, “you may be the only person who can do something.”

Bettencourt enjoys a reputation as the top vote-getter in Harris County, and said he’s the only elected official in the county who won more votes in 2004 than President George Bush.

But should Bettencourt be “drafted” by GOP leaders, and agree to run, he has a lot to lose: His position as county tax collector/assessor. By state law, if he announces as a congressional candidate, he must give up his current elected county position.

I still don’t believe Bettencourt will do this, though for sure it won’t break my heart to see his office open up. Bettencourt’s response about needing to be “drafted” has the smell to me of someone who recognizes the reality of the situation but is too polite to publicly scoff at his partymates’ desperation. If he really does run, I’ll be shocked, which is something for which I’d thought I’d lost the capacity after all that’s happened in this race. Stay tuned.

Henley poll

It was first mentioned on BOR, but the Jim Henley campaign did a poll of CD07 residents, which was written up in this Bellaire Examiner story. Here are the results:

Henley poll: 515 respondents

Republicans 225

Democrats 99

Independents 137

MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES

War in Iraq

Immigration

Economy

Education

GOVERNOR’S RACE

Rick Perry (R) – 36%

Chris Bell (D) -15%

Kinky Friedman (I) -14%

Carole Strayhorn (I) -12%

Undecided -18%

CONGRESS DIST. 7

John Culberson (R) – 51%

Jim Henley (D) – 39%

Undecided – 10%

Very interesting, and I don’t think anyone could say that Republicans were undersampled or Democrats were oversampled. If this is an accurate result, it would project to something like a 57-43 win for Culberson in a district that went 65% GOP in 2004, 70% in 2002. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that pretty darned underwhelming, and I’d bet that if something like that were to happen, this district would get a lot more attention in the 2008 campaign.

The Governor’s result is also pretty interesting, and it gives a little perspective to all the statewide polls. CD07 is more Republican than Texas is as a whole (again going by 2004 results), so if Perry is only pulling 36% here, maybe he’s worse off than SUSA/Zogby/Rasmussen are suggesting. That’s a pretty high undecided number, too. Let me offer my hope here that when and if other Congressional (and State House) races get polled, they ask about the Governor’s race as well.

More on the survey is here.