After DeLay's Resignation, What Next for Texas?

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Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who has announced his resignation, gave up his position as House majority leader last fall after he was indicted for illegal use of campaign funds. Two of his former aides have admitted to conspiring with former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to commit fraud. Alex Chadwick talks to Texas Weekly editor Ross Ramsey about what DeLay's resignation from Congress will mean for Texas politics.


A story today in the political newsletter Texas Weekly says members of Congress are generally less important to Texas politics than to national politics. But editor Ross Ramsey notes Tom DeLay was important for both. He joins us now from the studios of member station KUT in Austin.

Well, he says now that his resignation is to help insure that Republicans hold on to this Congressional seat of his. Are they going to be able to do that?

Mr. ROSS RAMSEY (Editor, Texas Weekly): I think so. You know, the layout for this thing was Nick Lampson, a former congressman from Beaumont, moved into the district to move, to run against Tom DeLay. And it was going to be a referendum on DeLay. I think DeLay had that right in his exit interview with Time Magazine. And to the extent that it was a referendum on DeLay, there was a chance the Republicans would lose it. Without DeLay as a foil here, Lampson has a much tougher race to run.

CHADWICK: Mr. DeLay still is under indictment in Texas, isn't he? Does quitting the race, is that going to resolve any of his legal problems there?

Mr. RAMSEY: No. The district attorney in Travis County--that's Austin, the state capital--Ronnie Earl said this morning that he wasn't going to change anything, that DeLay was still under indictment. That they were still going to pursue what they were doing.

CHADWICK: And the terms of the that indictment again?

Mr. RAMSEY: He's been indicted. They're actually finding a couple of the charges, but the idea was that TRMPAC, Texans for a Republican Majority was set up by Tom DeLay to help win a majority in the Texas House which could then draw a congressional map to help DeLay in Congress. And that DeLay and his associates used corporate money to help get some of those guys elected. In Texas, it's against the law to use corporate or union money in a partisan election.

CHADWICK: Now with Tom DeLay out of the race and hoping that the seat will be held by Republicans, who is the likely Republican candidate?

Mr. RAMSEY: They don't have to rerun a primary. In Texas law, they've already held the primary in March. In Texas law, a candidate comes off the ballot if he's disqualified to hold the seat. DeLay said he'll declare residence in Washington, outside of Texas, and that does it. So the Republicans here will appoint someone to hold their place on the ballot. So it will be one of those smoke-filled room deals. There was kind of a horse race this morning. You know, one of the names that came up was Harris County Judge Robert Eckles, former State House member from Houston, and now a popular politician there. Sugarland Mayor David Wallace has been mentioned, and, you know, we could probably quickly assemble a list of 20 names. I think it'll shake out to two or three. DeLay said he won't endorse a favorite son in this race.

CHADWICK: I think Tom DeLay does leave a big legacy in Washington for what he's done in the last 10 years. What about in Texas?

Mr. RAMSEY: The legacy in Texas is a little bit narrower. In Washington, clearly, he's been one of the leaders for years. He's had a huge impact up there. In Texas, he's just the congressman from Sugarland. He's been good for NASA, for some roads around, you know, that part of suburban Houston. But for the most part, he hasn't played in Texas politics. That changed in 2002 when he formed Texans for a Republican Majority to help win a Republican majority in the Texas House. That majority then went on to draw the Congressional maps that helped DeLay. But they flipped five or six seats in the Texas congressional delegation. And at that point, he became an important figure in state politics as well.

CHADWICK: Well, he says he want to remain a figure in national politics, but kind of off to the side maybe as a lobbyist or consultant. In Texas, you think he's done?

Mr. RAMSEY: I think he's done in Texas. You know, even, even without all of the other things that have attended this. You know, the leading politician in Texas for the Republican Party is the guy in the White House. The Texas senators are both very popular here. You know, it's a big state, and the state-wide officials get more attention than Congressman do.

CHADWICK: Ross Ramsey, editor of the newsletter Texas Weekly. Ross, thank you.

Mr. RAMSEY: You bet.

CHADWICK: And there's a feature about Tom DeLay's electoral career--political career--at our website, NPR.org.

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