August 11, 2006
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.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 11, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

The one thing DeLay ensured by quitting for good is that Democrats couldn't use him as a fundraising tool in a political battle that he reasoned he might lose.

Now, I can't answer the question of whether he actually would have served as that big a fundraising tool. Regulars here probably have a much better sense of that than I do.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on August 11, 2006 11:10 AM

"I'm not confident that I would win."

This sums up the entire reasoning behind this circus.

Good riddance, Tom DeLay.

Posted by: Dennis on August 11, 2006 12:22 PM

Incredible post, Kuff. Really, really well done.

Posted by: Phillip Martin on August 11, 2006 1:41 PM

Charles, the rumor mill has it that Tom cut a deal with prosecutors that he better damn well resign, withdraw and not even THINK about running if he wanted to even think about not seeing his daughter, Dani, and maybe his wife in prison with him.

Posted by: muse on August 11, 2006 8:56 PM