Tom DeLay has left office early, but he is not returning to Sugar Land and the pest control business. He is staying in his condo in Alexandria, Va., right across the river from Washington, to pursue other interests. Or maybe Alexandria doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Austin.
DeLay’s stated reason for remaining in Washington was that he became ineligible to run for election since he’s no longer a resident of the state of Texas. This move allowed the GOP to quickly appoint someone to run for the open slot in the 22nd Congressional District. As for the former Majority Leader, aka the Hammer, we can expect him to accept that most lucrative of post-Congressional callings and become a Washington lobbyist. If DeLay knows anything about anything, he knows money and lobbying. Even his brother made six figures a year with the extraordinary talent of being, well, Tom DeLay’s brother.
Also, we must remember that DeLay and most of his former colleagues never return home because Washington is their home. So, the fact that his seat is open because he no longer lives in Texas is pure irony. Almost none of Texas’ elected reps live in the state, and they show no sign of leaving Washington.
It has often – maybe too often – been said, “Politicians and diapers have one thing in common; they should both be changed regularly for the same reason.” Houstonians don’t buy that. DeLay himself had been in Congress since 1984 and was in his 11th term. Gene Green is now in his seventh term, having first been elected in 1992. Sheila Jackson Lee – in office since 1994, running for her seventh term. John Culberson – since 2000, third term. Kevin Brady – arrived in 1996, now in his sixth term. Ron Paul is a special case, as he has been in and out of Congress since 1976 (running on a platform of term limits). Paul is now in his ninth term.
Since the Big Gerrymandering of 2003, Harris County is in all or part of seven different Congressional districts, running from Louisiana to Austin. In the process of re-drawing the districts, we booted out a bunch of Democrats and then elected Republicans. So, we have newly minted members, such as Ted Poe, Michael McCaul and Al Green (a Democrat) who skewer our normal seniority.
These new kids on the block will get their turn at Potomac Fever, which has long been contagious among the Texas delegation. Tom Connally served in the Congress for 30 years. When he finally left the Senate he stayed in Washington and worked for a law firm. Texas was no longer his home. Lyndon Johnson went to Congress when he was 28 and didn’t return to live full time in Texas until he was 60. Sam Rayburn spent more of his life in the U.S. House than he did in Bonham.
Last Christmas, I got a nice card from my former Congressman, Bill Archer, who served in the House for 30 years before retiring. The return address was “Arlington, Va.” These are only the latest examples of Ashby’s First Axiom of Congress: They never go back to Boise. Once, I noted that another Houston Congressman, Mike Andrews, was retiring but not coming back. He wrote me that he was “going to work for a Houston law firm.” That he did – in Washington. Former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, who represented a Dallas suburb for 18 years, retired and also joined the lobbying and legislative operations of a Washington law firm.
After serving in the House and then in the Senate, Phil Gramm announced he would retire, and that he and his wife had bought some property outside of San Antonio. Well, almost. Gramm has a job with a bank and will split his time between Washington and New York. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison ran, and won, on a platform of only serving two terms. She is now running for her third term, fourth if you count her first partial term to fill the spot of Lloyd Bentsen. This brings us to Ashby’s Second Axiom of Congress: When the Washington Redskins become the home team, it’s time to come home.
Then, there are the first Bushes, George and Bar. When he was vice president and then president, his legal home was a room in the Houstonian Hotel. The Bushes would faithfully return to their room to vote in each election. They had said all along they were coming back to Houston when their tour in Washington was over. Many locals greeted that promise with some skepticism, but return is exactly what the Bushes did, even if it came four years earlier than expected.
As for our boy from Sugar Land, he got into trouble partially over his close connections to a disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. But the former Congressman faces criminal charges back in Austin for allegedly raising money to strengthen the Republicans’ – and thus his own – grip in the House. One of the greatest ironies in Texas politics is that Tom DeLay successfully expanded his power, and in doing so, lost it.