On DeLay's Home Turf, Reaction Is One of Surprise

News that Rep. Tom DeLay has decided to give up his House seat leaves many in the veteran Republican's hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, scratching their heads. With the primaries already come and gone, few voters think the timing of the former House Majority Leader's announcement is anything other than puzzling.

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WADE GOODWYN reporting:

I'm Wade Goodwyn in Sugar Land. At the begonia planting workshop at the Sugar Land Community Center, the opinions about Tom DeLay's sudden decision to resign from Congress ran the gamut.

Ms. ANN WILSON (Resident, Sugar Land, Texas): I was devastated when I heard the news last night because there was no indication, no indication that this was going to happen.

GOODWYN: Ann Wilson is a retired nurse, a lifelong Republican and a stalwart supporter of Tom DeLay. She has no idea why her congressman suddenly decided to pull out just weeks after he won the Republican primary. Now Wilson doesn't know who is going to be on the Republican ticket, and she doesn't like the situation one bit.

Ms. WILSON: I am not happy. I don't know who these also runners are that have to be voted on. But you can bet your boots that I'm going to investigate and see. We want Christian men in there. And they'll say, How could Tom DeLay be a Christian, acting like he did? We don't know how he acted. And I want to tell you, if they cleaned house for whatever they think Tom DeLay did, there wouldn't be a congressman in the Congress.

GOODWYN: Ellen Frank probably agrees with her begonia-propagating colleague on that particular point, but that would be about it. Frank's reaction upon hearing the news about DeLay was jubilation.

Ms. ELLEN FRANK (Resident, Sugar Land, Texas): Three cheers.

GOODWYN: Tell me why.

Ms. FRANK: I think the kind of politics that Mr. DeLay represents is antithetical to a democratic way of life. The winner take all mentality, the hammer people to the ground, the K Street, building up the lobbyist as a fourth branch of government, this is just something that has gotten totally out of control. And I think he, although not the originator, necessarily, I think he has certainly contributed tremendously to the development of that kind of mentality.

GOODWYN: Across the street at the Sugar Land Post Office, General Matthews, a Republican, wasn't sure exactly how he felt about DeLay's decision.

Mr. GENERAL MATTHEWS (Resident, Sugar Land, Texas): I don't know. I, mixed feelings there. I think he was a great help being a senior member of the Congress, but then again I don't want to condone wrongdoing, which apparently is what he did.

GOODWYN: Matthews doesn't want the Democratic candidate, Nick Lamson, to win, but he doesn't relish the prospect of doing without Tom DeLay's influence either.

Mr. MATTHEWS: He had a lot of clout, and it's, whoever wins the election, I hope it's not Lamson, but, anyway, anyway, whoever wins the election is not going to have, they've got to start from square one.

GOODWYN: But small business owner Greg White believes DeLay's resignation is an opportunity for the Republican Party. He's one Republican who's ready for someone new.

Mr. GREG WHITE (Resident, Sugar Land, Texas): I think it's about time. No hard feelings, but he's been there a long time. He's got a nice pension coming to him the rest of his life, and it's time to, he can't be having fun.

GOODWYN: Tom DeLay said that he pulled out to protect his constituents, but that left most people here scratching their heads. With the primaries already come and gone, nobody felt the timing of DeLay's announcement was anything other than puzzling.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Sugar Land, Texas.

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