‘The Hammer’ Checked Every Sleazy Box

Tom DeLay didn’t break Washington, but he’s a living symbol of what broke it.

DANCING WITH THE STARS - An all new cast of celebrities hits the dance floor on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" with the highly anticipated two-hour season premiere, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2009 (8:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on ABC.  On Monday night, all the male stars strutted their stuff with individual dances, in addition to a group relay performance. 
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Oct. 4, 2013, 2 a.m.

What ails Wash­ing­ton? My list would in­clude hy­per-par­tis­an re­dis­trict­ing schemes, pay-to-play cor­rup­tion, zero-sum-gain ideo­logy, run­away en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing and, fi­nally, the trivi­al­iz­ing no­tion that U.S. polit­ics is a game played by celebrity-politi­cians.

Who broke Wash­ing­ton? No one per­son, of course, but former GOP strong­man Tom DeLay checks every sleazy box. The former GOP House ma­jor­ity lead­er rep­res­en­ted Texas’ 22nd con­gres­sion­al dis­trict from 1984 to 2006, when he left amid scan­dal.

Re­dis­trict­ing: The Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires new con­gres­sion­al lines to be drawn every 10 years to re­flect the latest census, a pro­cess that has al­ways been freighted by polit­ics. Due to ad­vances in both tech­no­logy and par­tis­an­ship, the pro­cess is more rigged than ever to fa­vor in­cum­bents and con­trolling parties.

In 1998, the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port iden­ti­fied 164 swing dis­tricts in the House—that is, dis­tricts with­in 5 points of the na­tion­al av­er­age in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion. Today, there are 90 swing dis­tricts, the only places with a le­git­im­ate shot at a con­tested race. That is a 45 per­cent de­cline since 1998. Also, the latest re­dis­trict­ing made the av­er­age GOP dis­trict less ra­cially di­verse, even as the na­tion grew more di­verse.

The res­ult of these shifts is that House Re­pub­lic­ans are pulled far to the right and House Demo­crats to the left. Law­makers worry more about primary elec­tions, where ex­trem­ists and pur­ity tests threaten their seats, than they do about gen­er­al elec­tions, which are heav­ily stacked in their fa­vor.

DeLay didn’t in­vent ger­ry­man­der­ing, but he took it to new depths. The Texas Re­pub­lic­an was House ma­jor­ity lead­er when he en­gin­eered a plan to re­draw his home state’s polit­ic­al maps in 2003, an al­most un­pre­ced­en­ted un­do­ing of the once-a-dec­ade tra­di­tion. Demo­crats called it what it was, a na­ked power grab, but the U.S. Su­preme Court up­held most of the plan in 2006.

Pay-to-Play: The Texas ploy cost DeLay. His fun­drais­ing on be­half of the re­dis­trict­ing plan led to an ad­mon­ish­ment from the House eth­ics com­mit­tee and a state-level in­dict­ment on charges of il­leg­ally di­vert­ing money to the cam­paigns of state le­gis­lat­ors who drew the new map. He was forced to quit the House. DeLay was found guilty, and a Texas court over­turned the con­vic­tion last month.

The former pest ex­term­in­at­or seemed to make a hobby of blur­ring eth­ic­al and leg­al lines. Along with then-House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich and con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist Grover Nor­quist, DeLay pres­sured Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ing firms to hire their GOP pals and re­war­ded loy­al GOP lob­by­ists with ac­cess. The K Street Pro­ject was a brazen quid pro quo scam, un­eth­ic­al as it was leg­al. In 2007, Con­gress banned mem­bers of Con­gress from in­flu­en­cing em­ploy­ment de­cisions of private en­tit­ies for polit­ic­al pur­poses, a re­sponse to the up­roar over the K Street Pro­ject.

Two of DeLay’s former polit­ic­al aides pleaded guilty in 2006 to cor­rup­tion charges along with dis­graced GOP lob­by­ist Jack Ab­ramoff. Ab­ramoff al­legedly provided DeLay with trips, gifts, and polit­ic­al dona­tions in ex­change for spe­cial treat­ment af­forded to his cli­ents. DeLay denied the ac­cus­a­tions and was not charged in the Ab­ramoff case, but his name will forever be tied to pay-for-play polit­ics.

Zero-sum gain: DeLay rep­res­ents a my-way-or-the-high­way mind-set that is so com­mon and cor­ros­ive in polit­ics today. Nick­named “The Ham­mer,” he nur­tured a repu­ta­tion for en­for­cing party dis­cip­line and re­tri­bu­tion against any­body who de­fied George W. Bush’s White House. He was known to threaten dis­loy­al Re­pub­lic­an law­makers: Cross him and he’d find and sup­port GOP primary foes. To win, there seemed to be no lever that DeLay wouldn’t pull. Even bribery. The House eth­ics com­mit­tee un­an­im­ously ad­mon­ished DeLay in 2004 be­cause he “offered to en­dorse Rep­res­ent­at­ive [Nick] Smith’s son in ex­change for Rep­res­ent­at­ive Smith’s vote in fa­vor of the Medi­care bill.”

Run­away en­ti­tle­ments: That Medi­care bill ex­ten­ded pre­scrip­tion drug cov­er­age, adding more than $500 bil­lion to the na­tion’s debt-rid­den books. Pres­id­ent Bush thought that was a small price to pay for a reelec­tion is­sue. The ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­pressed a re­port on the costs, an act the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ing Of­fice later called il­leg­al. When the House voted on the bill, Demo­crats seemed to have de­feated it after the 15-minute vot­ing peri­od. But DeLay froze the le­gis­lat­ive clock for three hours while his team strong-armed law­makers, an ex­traordin­ary breach of pro­tocol.

Celebrity polit­ics: DeLay is by no means the first politi­cian to blur the lines between polit­ics and pop cul­ture, or even the worst of­fend­er. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to pub­lish an em­bar­rass­ing photo. In 2009, the Tex­an par­ti­cip­ated in the real­ity TV show Dan­cing With the Stars, don­ning a se­quined, leo­pard-lined vest and or­tho­ped­ic shoes to per­form the cha-cha-cha. Stress frac­tures in his feet forced him from the com­pet­i­tion. While pro­mot­ing the show, DeLay re­sor­ted to his old tricks: He echoed the false but dur­able “birth­er” con­spir­acy the­or­ies about Pres­id­ent Obama.

Even in re­tire­ment, softened in se­quins, The Ham­mer checks the boxes.

What We're Following See More »
JOINS BUSHES, MCCAIN
Romney to Skip Convention
25 minutes ago
THE LATEST

An aide to Mitt Romney confirmed to the Washington Post that the 2102 GOP nominee will not attend the Republican convention this year. He joins the two living Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, as well as 2008 nominee John McCain in skipping the event. Even among living Republican nominees, that leaves only Bob Dole who could conceivably show up. Dole did say in January that he'd prefer Trump to Ted Cruz, but his age (92) could keep him from attending.

Source:
CALIFORNIA MAKES IT 21
FDA to Ban All Tobacco Sales to Minors
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a long-awaiting new rule, the Food and Drug Administration will ban sale of all tobacco products—including e-cigarettes—to those under 18. The rule takes effect in 90 days. It's part of a larger package of regulations that "gives FDA authority to regulate—but not to ban—all tobacco products, from e-cigarettes to cigars and hookahs." Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill on Wednesday that would bump the legal age to buy all tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Source:
#NEVERTRUMP
Sen. Sasse Calls for a Third Candidate
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Ben Sasse, the most prominent elected official to declare that he's #NeverTrump, wrote an open letter on Facebook to the "majority of Americans who wonder why the nation that put a man on the moon can’t find a healthy leader who can take us forward together." Calling to mind recent conversations at a Fremont, Neb., Walmart, the senator pitted the presumptive general election battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as such a "terrible choice" that there would be an appetite for another candidate to emerge. In a parenthetical aside to reporters, Sasse ruled himself out. "Such a leader should be able to campaign 24/7 for the next six months," he wrote. "Therefore he/she likely can’t be an engaged parent with little kids." Meanwhile, his colleague Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted in a private recording obtained by Politico that Trump hurts his reelection chances.

Source:
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
CLINTON HERSELF COULD TESTIFY LATER
Judge Approves Deposition of Clinton Aides
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a joint proposal presented by Judicial Watch and the State Department to take the depositions of officials" involved in the setup and use of Hillary Clinton's private email server, "including Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, Huma Abedin, a senior adviser to Clinton, and Bryan Pagliano, a State Department employee who serviced and maintained the server." He said Clinton could be deposed later on, though that may not be necessary.

Source:
×