Exit, stage right

Ever disciplined, Tom DeLay even stage-managed one of the lowest moments of his life.

Summoned to a Texas court last fall, DeLay was fingerprinted and photographed like a common criminal. But what a mug shot.

groomed in jacket and tie, DeLay grinned from ear to ear, looking more
like he had just won the lottery, rather than someone who was facing
charges of money laundering.

That was the point: control the message and your enemies can’t use it against you.

gleefully have sought to make the Texas Republican the poster boy for
bad Republican behavior. They sorely will miss DeLay’s departure from
the national stage.

DeLay often operated close to the ethical edge in his ascension to the powerful job of House majority leader.

on political prowess, arm-twisting and devotion to his GOP majority,
DeLay tightened the Republican grip on the House in his seven years as
Republican whip, the party’s No. 3 leadership post. And he delivered
for President Bush. The fellow Texans were political partners, but
never were close.

DeLay first harnessed his acrimony for
government regulations in the late 1970s and rode it into the Texas
House and Congress. During his stint in the Texas Legislature, he was
known as “Hot Tub Tom” for his partying ways.

Now he is a
born-again Christian whose skill as a tenacious political strategist
has allowed him to outmaneuver Democrats, pack Congress with more
Republicans and push through some major pieces of Bush’s legislative

When he rose to majority leader in 2003, DeLay sought to
soften his image. He dumped his “wet look” hairstyle, filled a gap in
his teeth and opened up more with the media.

Called “the Hammer”
for his hard-nosed approach _ his Capitol office has two leather
bullwhips _ the 58-year-old former pest exterminator has ensured House
passage of much of Bush’s legislative agenda, including tax cuts, trade
agreements and a Medicare prescription drug plan.

His brass-knuckle tactics drew the ire of Democrats, Washington lobbyists and good-government types.

House ethics committee admonished DeLay on three separate occasions in
2004. In addition to the Texas charges, a federal investigation is
pursuing DeLay’s ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

has denied any wrongdoing, telling fellow House Republicans in a letter
Saturday, “During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an
ethical manner within the rules of our body and the laws of our land. I
am fully confident time will bear this out.”

In an April letter
to supporters, DeLay borrowed a phrase coined by a long-ago besieged
President Clinton, arguing his opponents’ only agenda “is the politics
of personal destruction.” To which DeLay added, “and the
criminalization of politics.”

DeLay has come through for Bush
even though DeLay once assailed the first President Bush for breaking
his pledge not to increase taxes in 1990, and took heat from George W.
Bush in the 2000 campaign for House efforts to disperse earned income
tax payments to low-income families monthly instead of in one lump sum.

DeLay has to hold a 15-minute vote open for the better part of an hour
to twist arms, he will do it, as he did in securing House approval of
Bush’s Central American Free Trade Agreement in July by a razor-thin
margin of two votes.

Lobbyists do not escape his version of hardball politics.

complained to the Electronic Industries Alliance over its hiring of
former Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma as its president. DeLay
subsequently was rebuked by the ethics committee for badgering a
lobbying organization.

To win passage of the Medicare
prescription drug bill, DeLay promised a lawmaker that if he would vote
for the measure, DeLay would back a run for Congress by the lawmaker’s
son. The lawmaker refused, but DeLay was admonished again by the ethics
committee for making the offer.

“His devotion to the cause has
led him to push the envelope as hard as possible and not hold back,”
said Gary C. Jacobson, a professor of political science at the
University of California at San Diego.

DeLay has worked
tirelessly to increase the Republican majority in the House since the
GOP swept out the Democrats in 1994. He has raised tens of millions for
Republican candidates and used his own leadership political action
committee to shower cash on GOP hopefuls.

In 2002, he helped buck
the historic trend of midterm congressional election losses for the
party controlling the White House; instead Republicans gained in the

He strong-armed a redistricting plan for Texas that led to
the defeat of five Democrats in the state in 2004. The ethics panel
rebuked DeLay for using the Federal Aviation Administration in the
search for Texas Democratic lawmakers trying to avoid a vote on the
redistricting proposal.

DeLay was unabashed. “I’m the majority leader and we want more seats,” he said.

to the House in 1984 from the Houston suburbs, DeLay chafed under
Democratic rule for a decade before the GOP seized control. Then, in
1998, he led the charge in impeaching Clinton over the sex scandal
involving a White House intern.

He might have been House speaker
in 1998 after Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., stepped down and Rep. Bob
Livingston, R-La., stunningly bowed out, but DeLay acknowledged that he
was “too nuclear” to take the top job. He instead ensured that his
deputy, Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., became speaker.

A fierce
conservative, DeLay energized the Republican base last year when he
pushed for Congress to intervene in the case of a brain-damaged Florida
woman, Terri Schiavo, in a direct challenge to a Florida court’s
authority. For the most part, the general public questioned the
congressional action and the GOP took a hit in opinion polls.

DeLay has raised one daughter and three foster children with his wife, Christine.

© 2006 The Associated Press