RICHMOND, Texas --
Out here, where the tendrils of Houston's growing exurbs reach
for open ground, sits Rio Bend, a cluster of new houses and other
facilities for parents having difficult times with troubled foster
children -- difficulties like those Tom and Christine DeLay experienced
with several teenagers they took into their home. Rio Bend was
built by the DeLays, with help from friends, of sorts.
She, an acerbic realist
from south Texas, says more houses are planned by their charitable
organization, but: ``I hated to lose the leadership position because
it helps me to raise money for those kids.'' Note her agreeably
guileless acknowledgement that some friends of Rio Bend may not
have been seized by simple altruism. She shares here husband's
credo -- power is useful and should be used -- and knows the moral
ambiguities it can involve.
He strides like a
bantam rooster into the living room of one of the Rio Bend bungalows,
having just been buoyed by an appreciative luncheon of 400 realtors
to whom he read a list of earmarks -- personally directed spending,
aka pork -- he has delivered to his district. Most people, battered
as he recently has been, would be curled up on the carpet in a
fetal position. But DeLay is as direct and uncomplicated as the
tool that supplies his nickname -- ``The Hammer'' -- and his faults
do not include being a whiner.
Furthermore, he is
not about to plea bargain in the court of public opinion. He chafes
under prudential reticence: His attorneys tell him not to trumpet
the fact that the Justice Department told them he is not a target
in the Abramoff investigation. But about other matters, the bantam
recently ``they got out of hand,'' they are, he says, necessary
and proper because it is best to have spending dictated by a politician
who knows his district's needs: ``We are an equal branch of government
-- why should we let a bureaucrat decide?'' He says that in a
state like Illinois, which is dominated by Democrats ``who play
hardball,'' earmarks are the only way even Speaker Dennis Hastert
can get highway money spent in his district.
The K Street Project?
That is, getting interest groups to hire Republican lobbyists,
and to make such hirings fruitful by transactions using, among
other things, earmarks? The author of this insists: ``I'm very
proud of it.'' In 1994, ``we were coming as a Republican majority
into a Democratic culture'' in Washington. For 40 years, he says,
the media had hired people congenial to sources who controlled
Congress. And K Street -- the lobbyists' habitat -- hired Democrats
to ensure access to Democrats. K Street Republicans ``never got
to see John Dingell or (Dan) Rostenkowski,'' two Democratic chairmen
of crucial committees.
So, DeLay asks: In
1995, what do you think Democratic-dominated K Street was interested
in? ``Helping us get our work done? Secure our majority?'' Those
are rhetorical questions.
opponent this fall will be Nick Lampson, a former congressman
who in 2004 lost his seat in another district, partly because
of the redistricting DeLay engineered that resulted in five additional
Republican seats. DeLay won in 2004 with only 55 percent, partly
because he thought that ``to set an example'' he should consent
to making his district more Democratic in order to make others
to his trial on campaign finance charges brought by a notoriously
political Democratic prosecutor, DeLay says, with a confidence
that might be misplaced but clearly is unfeigned, ``I'll be acquitted
by the end of April.'' Then he says he will secure a 12th term,
winning ``the most expensive congressional race ever.''
The national Democratic Party and several liberal groups -- already
running ads and phone banks -- spend, well, liberally.
voters are thin on the ground -- he estimates they are about 13
percent of the district -- this election will be about mobilizing
the faithful. So the piling on by his critics -- their wretched
excesses in response to what they perceive to be his -- may help
Congress under Republican
control has increased earmarks 873 percent in a decade and validated
the axiom that the more solicitous government becomes, the more
servile it seems and the more scorn it receives. Congress has
not been so unpopular since 1994, when Democrats lost their 40-year
grip on the House. But here on the east bend of the Brazos River,
unlike on the Potomac, the fever for reform is not high. To a
visiting columnist who waxes censorious about earmarks for highway
projects, DeLay responds with a notable lack of repentance: ``You
just drove out on one.''
2006, Washington Post Writers Group