Questions Linger About DeLay's Place on the Ballot
SHEILAH KAST, host:
In Texas, a federal judge has ruled that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay must keep his name on the ballot for Congress in November.
DeLay won the Republican primary in March, but announced he was leaving Congress and moving his official residence to Virginia. He thought that would allow the Texas Republican Party to replace him on the ballot. But Texas Democrats challenged DeLay in court, and the judge agreed.
The ruling says that to allow the parties to replace candidates after primary elections had occurred would constitute a fraud on voters. So DeLay's name still is on the ballot in Houston's 22nd District.
He has hinted that the Democrats should be careful of what they wish for. NPR's Wade Goodwyn visited the district to learn what voters think of DeLay's possible return to electoral politics.
WADE GOODWYN reporting:
Sugar Land, Texas is mostly white, mostly working and middle-class, mostly conservative Christian, and mostly Republican. And in the middle of summer, it's mostly unbearable. That's why one of the most powerful voting blocks in the 22nd district goes to First Colony Mall in the mornings to get their exercise.
Mr. WALTER HEINKEL(ph) (Texas Republican): I would like to vote Republican, because this area has been Republican. But I cannot vote for Tom DeLay again.
GOODWYN: Walter Heinkel is a retired school administrator and life-long Republican. He was more than a little annoyed when U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, a Republican appointee, refused to let the Texas Republican Party replace Tom DeLay on the ballot.
Heinkel is not about to vote for a Democrat. He wants a new Republican choice. He believes DeLay's time has passed.
Mr. HEINKEL: And he's done a lot for this area, Highway 59, the airport, a lot of things. But this Jack Abramoff deal, that did it for me as far as Tom DeLay goes. That cut it for me.
GOODWYN: Heinkel says that now, when it comes to the subject of Tom DeLay, Sugar Land Republicans are divided.
Mr. HEINKEL: There's a group of us that meet every day, Monday through Saturday, and of that group I would say, of the 20 I would say probably 17 are very strong Republicans. So there's not a real consensus, because we have some of them that worked very, very hard for DeLay's campaign, and they're still supporting DeLay. But the majority of the people feel like its time to move on.
GOODWYN: Across from Walter Heinkel sits his friend Bill Moore(ph), one of the Democrats. Being a Democrat in Sugar Land may not put you in a category of endangered species, but you are certainly outnumbered. And having Tom DeLay as your representative probably does not help your blood pressure.
Tom Moore(ph) sums up the Democratic perspective succinctly.
Mr. TOM MOORE (Texas Democrat): In my opinion, Tom DeLay belongs in prison. He's just a crook.
GOODWYN: It's the Democrats, of course, that are fighting in court to keep Tom DeLay's name on the ballot. The idea is that he's such damaged goods, it gives the Democratic candidate, former Congressman Nick Lampson, a real chance to win.
But if DeLay is forced to keep his name on the ballot, he may well pick up that ball and run. If he does, he will find plenty of voters like housewife Mary Hutchet.
Ms. MARY HUTCHET (Texas Republican): I've always been a fan of Tom DeLay's. I believe in his politics. I believe he's a fine man. I love what he did for our country, and I endorse him wholeheartedly.
GOODWYN: Even after his indictment on money laundering charges, all the negative media, his connections to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay still garnered 61 percent of the vote in the March primary against opponents who were theoretically supposed to give him a run for his money. Nope.
Ms. HUTCHET: I think the people in Sugar Land are very conservative. I think they would vote for Tom DeLay. I think they've always liked him. I think that's a very Texan thing, to be forceful and speak your mind. And I think that's what Tom DeLay does.
GOODWYN: If DeLay were to win reelection, he could immediately resign and have the Republican governor replace him by a special election. Or he could serve in Congress.
But there are good reasons for the former Sugar Land congressman not to run. Right now, DeLay has $1.4 million in his campaign account. He needs that money to pay his defense lawyers. So the Republican Party has appealed Judge Sparks' ruling that DeLay's name must stay on the ballot. Nine Republican hopefuls who wish to take Tom DeLay's place are hoping the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, will overturn Judge Sparks.
Right now, all they can do is wait. The court has agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.
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