Sunday, December 31, 2006

DeLay's Demise: Remembering 'Hot Tub Tom'

We can't let 2006 slip away without a final word or two about former Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas political operator and, until a few months ago, a Republican leader and conservative firebrand in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Long before his extinguished political career in Washington, however, DeLay was a young Texas legislator. But he was not exactly the social conservative he later claimed to be. In Austin, he lived with other young lawmakers at a residence dubbed the "Macho Manor," where he acquired a reputation for good times and a colorful nickname: "Hot Tub Tom."

But that was long, long ago in a state capital far, far away. In 1984, as a freshman Congressman, DeLay changed his ways and, in his words, "came back to Christ," a conversion (or, more accurately, reconversion) that inspired a new, more determined politician. DeLay discovered his political destiny, and he skillfully worked his way through the GOP ranks until he became one of the most powerful legislators in Congress. He also became "The Hammer," a nickname for what Texas Monthly called "his mastery of the dark arts of persuasion."

But, as the saying goes, power corrupts. And in Washington, money and power are linked, as DeLay well knew. DeLay's record as a financial arm-twister is replete with questionable meetings, backroom horse-trading, and other forms of back-scratching and deal-making. To our way of thinking, none of this seems very Christ-like.

But we'll let the record speak for itself. Here is a partial list of Tom DeLay's political and financial hijinks, some of which led him to step down from Congress earlier this year.

Exhibit A: In 1998, DeLay got riled up over the hiring of former Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy as president of the Electronic Industry Alliance. DeLay's tactics were so drastic and so unnecessary that he was admonished by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee even though no complaint had been filed. With DeLay in mind, the committee reminded all House members that they were prohibited from "taking or withholding action any official action on the basis of partisan affiliation."

Exhibit B: In June 2000, DeLay and his wife Christine travel to Scotland for a golf outing. The first-class airfare cost $14,001, and it was paid for by Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist. House rules prohibit lobbyists from paying a Congress member's travel expenses or accepting a gift with a value of more than $100.

Exhibit C: In 2002, DeLay attended a fundraiser at a West Virginia resort called the Homestead hosted by several corporations, one of which was Westar, a Kansas energy company. DeLay asked Westar if the company had any pending interest in federal energy legislation. The company did. They also made a $25,000 contribution to one of DeLay's political action committees. Again, the House Ethics committee became alarmed, writing DeLay that, at a minimum, his actions "created an appearance that donors were being provided special access to you regarding then-pending energy legislation." Texas Monthly, which has written extensively about Delay, summed up the Westar incident in damning terms: "DeLay behaved like the cartoon version of himself: He didn't care how blatant he came across, as long as he got the money."

So long, Tom. We won't miss you. But we will remember your political legacy: pettiness, rabid partisanship, money-grubbing, and arrogance.


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