Skip to main content

DeLay rose the old-fashioned way

Texas Republican's fall from power swift after indictment

By Candy Crowley


Tom DeLay

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- He is a bug exterminator driven to politics by his fury over environmental rules, having once called the EPA the Gestapo of government.

After the president, he may have been the most powerful man in Washington.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, left his leadership position in September after he was indicted in a campaign finance investigation. On Monday, congressional sources said he will drop out of his re-election race and leave the House.

DeLay came to power the old fashioned way: under his own steam, building a base of loyalty, collecting chits.

"He has worked for each member to get elected, to be re-elected," former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, said last year.

In 2004, DeLay -- a prodigious fundraiser -- gave more money to congressional candidates than any other lawmaker.

A decade ago he was a relative unknown in a minority party. But DeLay was setting the type for his headliner status -- sending cash and care packages to the campaigns of Republican hopefuls in the class of '94.

"A candidate for Congress who would be out knocking on doors, meeting with supporters, talking about issues, debating his or her opponent would come back to the headquarters and they would say, 'This guy, Tom DeLay, just sent home-baked cookies from Texas,' " House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier, R-California, said.

When the House re-opened for business in 1995, Republicans were in charge for the first time in four decades. Many of them owed DeLay.

He was elected majority "whip," the person responsible for rounding up votes. He was very good at it. Someone once called him a cross between a concierge and a mafia don -- a guy who delivered.

"He's the kind of person who would always reach out to help with your political needs, your congressional needs, your personal needs," former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-New York, said.

And DeLay expected loyalty.

"If anyone within his own party disagrees with him, they find an opponent waiting in the wings in the next primary. They find a threat to reduce the amount of funding available to them," former Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, said last year.

On Capitol Hill, DeLay was known as "The Hammer," pounding money out of donors, pounding votes out of colleagues, pounding the Democrats.

Eric Smith, who was an aide to former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said, "There were countless times on the House floor when Democrats would feel like we'd finally pulled one off and we were finally gonna win, and the clock on the vote would stop and Tom DeLay would appear on the floor and Republican members would start walking to the well of the House to change their votes."

With eight years as whip and three as majority leader, DeLay was a brass-knuckles conservative in relentless pursuit of his agenda.

"Every morning when he wakes up, he's trying to figure out a way that the conservatives can win and the Democrats lose," said Stuart Roy, a former DeLay staffer who went on to become a media consultant and adviser to Progress for America, a conservative issue advocacy organization.

In Texas, Delay pushed the state legislature to redraw district lines to favor Republican candidates.

When minority Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote, DeLay called the Federal Aviation Administration to find out where they went.

"He was a bulldog, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer, " Stenholm said. "And some of his tactics are being reviewed by the proper legal authorities, and I'll leave it to them whether anything was illegal or not."

Drawn into a district he couldn't win, Stenholm is now a former congressman -- one of the Texas Democrats who lost their congressional seat in 2004.

And DeLay got six more Texas Republicans in Washington to help move the agenda: smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations.

Before his indictment, he was the go-to guy for getting legislation through Congress. Donors wanted to give him money. Lobbyists wanted to please him, or at least not make him mad. Power begat more power.

Delay warned pro-business lobbies to stop giving money to Democratic candidates. He pushed K Street (Washington speak for lobbyists and trade associations) to hire Republicans.

He expanded his reach. Bloomberg News found that more than 200 companies, coalitions and trade groups hired former DeLay employees as lobbyists

Never charged with violating House rules, DeLay skirted the edge and was warned by the House Ethics Committee on four occasions.

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.

© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines