ANd here’s an op-ed that appeared in the WSJ last THursday:
Have Things Gone Sour in Sugar Land?
By JONATHAN GURWITZ
March 24, 2005; Page A15
SAN ANTONIO – Drive down U.S. Highway 59 from downtown Houston, and you take a sociological journey from the city’s old, urban center to the picturesque suburbs of neighboring Fort Bend County. You also embark on a political odyssey, from the traditional precincts of the Texas Democratic Party to Sugar Land, the home of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The recent swirl of ethics charges surrounding Rep. DeLay plays just about the same here in Texas as it does anywhere else outside the Beltway. “Tom was stupid for messing with corporate money,” a prominent Houston GOP leader told me, referring to allegations that a political action committee founded by Mr. DeLay may have violated state law by misusing corporate donations. “If he’s not careful, he’ll end up like Gingrich.”
The damage done by more recent charges regarding funds for trips abroad remains to be seen. But for the lion’s share of Mr. DeLay’s supporters in Texas, the ethical charges against the majority leader amount to little more than a partisan witch-hunt by a Democratic district attorney in Austin, Ronnie Earle, and the Democratic leadership in Washington – the not-so-unexpected result of unseating six congressional incumbents.
When Mr. DeLay won election to the Texas House of Representatives in 1978, he was the first Republican to win county-wide in Fort Bend since Reconstruction. GOP victories were so scarce in Texas at the time that a meeting of Republican elected officials in most counties could take place in a phone booth.
Mr. DeLay was part of a small group that brought together Republican politicians from across the state to strategize about transforming themselves into a governing majority. It seemed then like an impossible dream.
They called their conclaves Camp Wannameetagop, reflecting the unlikely prospect that the small number of Republican officeholders would ever encounter each other under normal circumstances. Former legislator and Bexar County Judge Cyndi Taylor Krier was an attendee of those early meetings. Mr. DeLay, she recalls, was known for his “ordinariness.” Like his experience as a foster parent, his advocacy for abused children and his small business roots, Rep. DeLay’s down-home ordinariness is at odds with his ominous Capitol Hill reputation as “The Hammer.”
By the time the 77th Legislature began its work in January 2001, the political landscape in Texas bore little resemblance to the Wannameetagop days. Republicans had swept every statewide race in three consecutive elections, held a majority in the Texas Senate and were four seats short of a majority in the House.
Most importantly for Mr. DeLay, Texas offered the potential of eight more Republican congressional seats in the decennial redistricting process: two from population growth and six at the expense of Democrats.
Rather than redraw the map to reflect Texas’ new political reality and dispatch some of their congressional friends in the process, House Democrats lamely handed redistricting to a three-judge federal panel. The panel, which evaluated districts with respect to the Voting Rights Act rather than politics, essentially kept in place a contrived Democratic majority that resulted from the 1991 redistricting map, a monstrosity whose principal architect was former Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas.
Mr. DeLay’s solution was Texans for a Republican Majority, the political action committee that raised and spent $1.5 million to deliver a Republican majority in the Texas House, and which lies at the heart of the ethics imbroglio.
After two abortive efforts by Democrats to block redistricting by fleeing the state and three special legislative sessions, Mr. DeLay’s long journey reached the political promised land in 2003 – a redistricting plan that changed Texas’ congressional delegation from a 17-15 Democratic majority to a 21-11 Republican majority in last fall’s election.
Mr. DeLay’s central role in the redistricting fight, a source of outrage for Democrats nationwide, was perfectly understandable to Texas Republicans. Undoing the travesty of the Democrat’s 1991 redistricting plan was a political reckoning long overdue.
Mr. DeLay’s ultimate authority derives from the voters of Texas District 22, which includes parts of Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties. An untold story of the last general election was his surprisingly weak performance against attorney Richard Morrison, a political novice. While Mr. DeLay won 63% of the vote in 2002, he garnered only 55% last November, a narrower margin than Republican candidates in races above and below him on the ballot.
Changing demographics and, ironically, new boundaries that make the district slightly less Republican partly explain the results. But another explanation comes from GOP voters troubled by the ethics complaints. Fort Bend Republican County Chairman Eric Thode says the election reflected the barrage of media attacks on the majority leader. “Some Republican voters threw their votes away, but they didn’t throw DeLay away.”
Some Texas Republicans, meanwhile, remember the 1994 Contract With America and the pledge by Rep. DeLay and a new GOP leadership to restore accountability and fiscal responsibility to Congress and end its cycle of scandal and disgrace.
Measured in terms of profligate spending and a malleable ethics process, the Republican majority today is not so different from the Democratic majority it replaced. The ordinary idealism required to transform an opposition minority may not square with the extraordinary exercise of power in a ruling majority.
Political figures are rarely as good or as bad – or as simple – as conventional wisdom and the media tend to portray. Tom DeLay is no exception. To retain the loyalty of his Republican colleagues and his district’s voters in the future, he’ll need to restore some of the ordinariness that distinguished him in the past.
Mr. Gurwitz is a columnist and editorial writer for the San Antonio Express-News.