Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has had a number of interesting nicknames in his life: “The Exterminator,” a pun on his previous life as the owner of a pest control company; “Hot Tub Tom,” from his reputation as an alcoholic womanizer while serving in the Texas state legislature, and “The Hammer,” for using strong-arm tactics in keeping Republican congresspersons in lock-step with George Bush’s policies. He can add a new nickname to that trio: “The Nail,” after being hammered down on charges of money laundering and conspiracy by a Texas jury this week. DeLay was convicted of using various nefarious methods to illegally skirt Texas law and move corporate money into the campaigns of state Republican legislators in 2002, in order to insure a Republican majority that would then conduct redistricting that shifted the balance of power in favor of Republicans. An exodus of Democratic legislators to prevent a quorum failed to prevent the design, although a later U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that Texas Republicans violated the Voting Rights Act in at least one case by reshaping a largely Latino district to prevent the re-election of a popular Latino congressman. The convictions on the two charges generally call for a minimum of seven years in prison, although DeLay could only receive probation.
DeLay was one of the most extreme conservatives to serve in Congress in recent memory, and was frequently at odds with Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, because they were not “pure” enough in his eyes. Curiously, while DeLay thought that Gingrich—who was at the time involved with his own “fling” with a staffer—was not “moral” enough to lead the impeachment fight against Bill Clinton, he waved-off his own prior infidelities (while in his “Hot Tub Tom” days) by insisting he was “cleansed” of those sins after his discovery of religion. But DeLay could make even less claim to exercising moral or ethical scruples in the use of power, because he had none. DeLay’s day of judgment was long in coming, but it does no “justice” to a man whose whole career seemed based on defying the law in the pursuit of unvarnished power:
1994: DeLay committed apparent perjury in a civil suit brought against him by Robert Blankenship, a former partner in his pest control company. Blankenship claimed that he was forced out of the company without compensation. DeLay claimed that he “thought” he had resigned from the company “two or three years earlier,” thus was not properly a defendant; he and Blankenship eventually settled. But on his congressional disclosure forms, DeLay indicated that he was still working for the company in 1994.
1998: DeLay was accused of being bribed by a Russian oil company to the tune of $1 million to be given to an advocacy outfit run by a former DeLay staffer, the U.S. Family Network. DeLay denied that his subsequent vote on an IMF bailout plan for Russia was influenced by the payment.
1999: DeLay was “privately” reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for removing an intellectual property rights bill from consideration merely because one of the lobbying firms that favored the bill had recently hired a former Democrat as a lobbyist.
2000: DeLay blocked a labor reform bill for the Northern Marianas Islands (a U.S. commonwealth), an issue that would come up later in an infamous influence-peddling scandal.
2001: DeLay defied George Bush’s attempt to garner Democratic support for his massive tax cut proposal for the wealthy and corporations by inserting a modest increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for those earning between $10,500 and $26,625. “It ain’t going to happen,” DeLay told reporters—once more showing the contempt that Republicans have for working class Americans.
2002: In the midst of the Texas redistricting controversy, DeLay tried to coerce the FAA and FBI into locating and arresting recalcitrant Democratic lawmakers. The House Ethics Committee “admonished” DeLay for “inappropriately” misusing government resources.
2003: During a trip to Israel, DeLay’s anti-Palestinian stand was so strong that one Israeli observer said that his views were so extreme that the right-wing Likud Party was “nothing compared to this guy.” Even Jewish leaders complained that DeLay was single-handedly undercutting efforts at creating a two-state solution.
2004: The Justice Department began an investigation into DeLay’s ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Although earlier this year the department ended its investigation without bringing charges against DeLay, the mountain of circumstantial evidence in regard to votes on Indian gambling, the blocking of labor laws in the Northern Marianas Islands and other issues favored by Abramoff clients was damning. Abramoff and his clients, besides showering DeLay with gifts for “unknown” reasons, contributed $1.5 million to the U.S. Family Network, which as we recall also received a large contribution from a Russian oil company in exchange for DeLay’s “favor.” Although DeLay was never charged, two of his former staffers, Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, did plead guilty to illegal influence peddling. Also that year, DeLay was unanimously “admonished” by the Ethics Committee for offering to endorse the son of a congressman in exchange for votes.
2005: Comments made by DeLay regarding the Terry Schiavo case were interpreting as “rationalizing” the killing of judges, made more reprehensible since they followed soon after two acts of murder against judges. Later in the year he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate money to Republican candidates during the 2002 state legislature elections, with the intent of insuring a Republican majority that would control the redistricting process. DeLay subsequently resigned his House seat.
DeLay’s end may have been as much propelled by the enemies he made in his own party as by Texas Democrats seeking vengeance; after all, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will likely never be called to account for the many crimes they committed while serving the Bush agenda. But he did leave a legacy, more so even than Gingrich, in creating the polarizing atmosphere that has turned the U.S. Congress into a rigid, immovable object impervious to the public good.