DeLay Tactic

Check out this paragraph from a report by Janet Hook in today’s Los Angeles Times about the Republicans’ congressional agenda:

Before the elections, Republicans were buzzing with questions about whether [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay had lost his chance to one day become House speaker because he had been rebuked three times by the House Ethics Committee for his hard-charging tactics in raising money, corralling votes and dealing with lobbyists. But after election day — when Republicans gained five seats in Texas, thanks to a bold redistricting plan championed by DeLay — they were in a grateful mood.

So DeLay was rebuked for “hard-charging tactics” and his re-districting plan was “bold,” according to Hook.

DeLay’s first rebuke was for offering to support the election bid of the son of Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) if Smith voted for the Medicare prescription drug bill.

His second was for attempting to use the Federal Aviation Administration to locate a private plane believed to be carrying Texas Democratic lawmakers. The Democrats were fleeing the state in order to deny Republicans a quorum needed to pass DeLay’s “bold” re-districting plan. DeLay’s staff implied to the FAA that their request was a matter of national security.

DeLay’s third rebuke, administered along with the second, was related to his association with Kansas-based Westar Energy Inc. In memos written in 2002, company officials expressed the belief that their contributions to political committees associated with DeLay and other Republicans would get them “a seat at the table.” They apparently did. Just as Congress was considering major energy legislation, DeLay attended a golf tournament organized by Westar, which had a critical interest in ensuring that the legislation was as favorable as possible to domestic energy producers.

Taken as a whole, these activities are far more than “hard-charging.” The first is outright corruption, the second is an attempt to use federal resources for partisan political purposes, and the last typifies the degree to which lawmakers are influenced by corporate interests.

As for DeLay’s “bold” re-districting plan, there’s little dispute that it was a brazen (and ultimately successful) bid to increase the number of GOP seats in the House. Re-drawing a state’s congressional districts in non-census years is virtually unprecedented after 1900. And the new map was so clearly designed to increase the number of majority-Republican districts that its boundaries defy common sense. The town of Lockhart (population 11,600) for instance, is divided into three separate districts, and the local high school is cut off from its football stadium. Bold is one word for the plan. Corrupt is a better one.

Perhaps terms like “hard-charging” and “bold” are intended to function here as code words, signaling to knowledgeable readers that the reporter knows DeLay’s behavior was out-of-bounds. But then why not just come out and say it? By any reasonable standard, the activities Hook refers to are examples of unjustified abuses of power. And as long as the press is too timid to point that out, those abuses will continue.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.