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October 1st, 2005:

“The Big Buy”

Here’s a new line of deflection that Tom DeLay is trotting out.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Friday a documentary film crew’s behind-the-scenes access to the Travis County prosecutors who indicted him proves Ronnie Earle is little more than a publicity seeker.

“He’s got a film crew that has been following him around for two years to document how he’s going to get Tom DeLay,” DeLay said on a Houston radio talk show.


Independent filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck began making their documentary, The Big Buy, in February 2003. Schermbeck said the movie follows Earle’s investigation to show how corporate money was used to fuel Republican efforts to win the 2002 Texas House elections.

Earle and his staff members sat for interviews, as they have with the news media, the filmmakers told the Houston Chronicle.

They said the only special inside access they received was being allowed into Earle’s office in the minutes before he came out to announce indictments last October against DeLay associates John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and Warren RoBold.

Schermbeck said they never saw any legal documents or evidence before they became public. “Ronnie is too ethical a person to allow that to happen.”

As it happens, I have a review copy of this documentary on DVD – in fact, I just finished watching it. (Nothing like a relevant news story to make a deadline come alive.) There’s not really much in this that one wouldn’t already know if on were following this story all along. It’s well-presented and easy to follow, but there’s no secrets revealed. Earle himself is featured more than any other person in the movie, but since the filmmakers talk to a lot of people (including JD Pauerstein, Joe Turner, and Roy Minton, the attorneys for Jim Ellis, John Colyandro, and the Texas Association of Business, respectively), that means he’s onscreen for 15 or 20 minutes of the film’s one hour length. It’s clear that Earle believes this investigation is about bigger things than technical violations of electoral law – namely, about the influence of big money and how it gives unequal access to government based on how much of it you have. Earle’s critics – the three lawyers plus State Rep. Terry Keel and State Sen. Jeff Wentworth – all make note of that; basically, they say Earle is prosecuting on what he thinks the law should be, rather than on what it is.

Most of what I got out of this film that was new to me had to do with the civil lawsuit against TAB and TRMPAC. There was some footage from depositions given by Colyandro (who is one tightly-wound dude, though I can’t say I’d be any different if it were my ass that was being sued and indicted) and TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha. There was an interview with former State Rep. David Langefeld, who is one of the plaintiffs in that civil suit and who provided a wealth of campaign mailers that attacked him and promoted his opponent (Sid Miller), all paid for by TAB. And I don’t think I’d heard much from Joe Turner, Colyandro’s attorney, before this. He looks like he’d be pretty impressive in a courtroom – he’s younger and more dynamic than either Pauerstein or Minton. He also didn’t mumble like Pauerstein did.

As I understand it, filmmakers are still in the process of financing this movie for distribution, so I’d say that DeLay’s little tirade is the best thing that could have happened to them publicity-wise. I’m sure if he asked nicely, Messrs. Birnbaum and Schermbeck would be happy to send him a review copy as well, so he could see for himself that he’s just being paranoid here. If you get a chance to screen The Big Buy yourself (and I hope you do, it’s worth seeing), you’ll know what I mean.

On a side note, I thought the report from the DeLay lovefest was pretty funny.

In his first appearance in the area since he was indicted and lost his House leadership post, DeLay, R-Sugar Land, shared hugs, handshakes and, of course, speeches with about 200 people who packed a Galleria-area rally to see him.

The people who squeezed themselves into the San Jacinto Room of the Houston Engineering & Scientific Society building on Westheimer were clearly ready for battle.

They pasted themselves with “Tom DeLay for U.S. Congress” stickers and waved fans printed with “I’m a Tom DeLay fan.”

They attacked the indictment and the man who will prosecute it, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

Weaving past balloons featuring DeLay’s name, they waved hand-lettered signs that bore phrases such as “No proof, no way, we support Tom DeLay” and “Drop it now, Ronnie.”

The “United for DeLay” rally was meant to welcome him back to his district, the 22nd, although the event was held in the 7th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

I mean, he couldn’t find someplace that’s actually in his district to show how much his constituents still worship him? As Juanita says, I guess he’ll be playing his games on the road now.

Best of Houston

I’m pleased to note that I’m the Houston Press pick for Best Local Blog in their annual Best of Houston competition. That’s two years in a row, which is pretty darned sweet.

We waited for someone to step up and dethrone Charles Kuffner as the best blogger in town. We scoured the H-town blogosphere, reading what the pamphleteers of the 21st century had to say about sports, politics, music, art and breakfast. We wasted countless hours, time we could’ve spent paying our bills or cleaning our homes, getting too much information from all the folks out there who’ve stepped up, sat down and started typing. And we still think Kuffner is the man. He shines when it comes to local and national politics, but he’s not above throwing in a random jab at Paris Hilton when the situation merits. And who doesn’t like a little bit of that?

Whoever you are at the Press that likes me, thanks very much. And for my next trick, I plan to win the World Beard and Mustache Championship (thanks, Avedon!).

All silliness aside, here’s another award winner who richly deserves the kudos.

Best Democrat
Rick Noriega

It’s a cliche that politicians who are so eager to send other folks off to war sit safely behind their desks. Not Rick Noriega. He was sworn in for another term as state rep this January — not in Austin, but in a wooden barracks building outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. Lieutenant Colonel Noriega was on active duty training the Afghan army. It’s true the state legislature doesn’t have much to say about sending troops overseas, but it’s still home to more than its share of platitude-spouting pols who don’t have to back up their glib patriotism. Even from Kabul, Noriega continued his good legislative work though his wife, Melissa, who temporarily filled his seat and was named “Freshman of the Year” by the legislature’s Democratic caucus.

Damn straight. Rick Noriega, I salute you.