Political Intelligence

Paging Machiavelli

Terms of Enqueerment

Odd that Tom DeLay’s name hasn’t turned up in the Mark Foley page-hustling scandal. Perhaps FBI agents and House Ethics Committee investigators are already running the traps on DeLay’s muscling Foley into the closet while muscling another gay Republican out the door. While writing The Hammer: Tom DeLay, God, Money and the Rise of the Republican Congress, Jan Reid and former Observer editor Lou Dubose were told that DeLay confronted Foley and told him he could either be a gay man or he could have a future on the Republican House leadership team. Foley retreated into the closet and continued to serve as one of DeLay’s deputy whips. Not only did DeLay keep Foley on the whip team, he made him a player entrusted with critical assignments—such as counting heads on campaign-finance reform. Yet DeLay told another gay Republican—whose personal conduct was above reproach—that his House career was over and he could forget the subcommittee chair he requested. In response, he left the House for a lucrative career in the lobby. Republican House sources told Reid and Dubose about DeLay’s dealing with the two gay congressmen, which the reporters included in their 2003 book—though neither of the then-closeted men was identified. Before he was indicted by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle, DeLay had served as majority whip and majority leader. What did DeLay know and when did he know it? His intelligence operation always had all the goods on all the Republican members. If someone was playing cute with the pages, DeLay and his lieutenants knew it. DeLay is also an evangelical Christian, who rediscovered his faith in 1985 after watching a “Focus on the Family” tape featuring the rabidly anti-gay Dr. James Dobson. (Dobson believes homosexuality is a disease and even markets a creative cure.) For DeLay, forcing a gay member out of the House would please both the Lord and the party’s Christian base. Yet his selective homophilia raises a question that investigators should be asking. Did DeLay keep Foley on his team and in the closet because he had the goods on him and knew Foley would be a grateful and devoted lieutenant? How many adolescent pages got hustled by a gay congressman who was both protected and persecuted by the retired majority leader now writing his memoirs in Sugar Land?

This Time It’s Personal

Pete Laney has tried to be the very model of a former Texas House speaker. For two regular sessions and seven special sessions, he has refrained from attacking Midland Republican Rep. Tom Craddick, a friend-turned-foe who replaced him as speaker. Yet even before Laney announced his retirement last December, state GOP leaders were gunning for his West Texas seat. They believe that Laney’s District 85, which consistently has voted Republican, should be solidly GOP. They also seem bent on erasing the bipartisan, conservative-Democrat legacy the former speaker leaves behind.

Laney has endorsed Democrat Joe Heflin to replace him. After representing his district for 34 years, including 10 as speaker of the House, Laney’s endorsement carries a lot of weight. “I’ve known Joe for a long time, and his record of leadership as a Crosbyton alderman and as county judge of Crosby County has proven that he will be an outstanding representative for this district,” Laney says.

Heflin’s Republican opponent Jim Landtroop, an insurance salesman from Plainview, boasts the support of just about every statewide Republican official, including: Gov. Rick Perry, Speaker Tom Craddick, Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Despite the power of the state’s leadership, Heflin says Laney has been an influential voice for him in the 16-county district. “A lot of people call Pete and say, ‘Is this guy for real?'” Heflin says. And after voters get off the phone with Laney, Heflin says he hears people say, “If Pete Laney says you’re alright, I trust you.”

Candidates need more than endorsements to win. They need money, too. And the Republican has it. Landtroop, according to recent campaign finance reports, collected $20,000 from Houston home builder and tort-reform crusader Bob Perry. Additionally, he accepted a $15,000 contribution from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The same group donated more in the form of a $12,815 in-kind contribution for radio advertisements, and $9,615 in in-kind contributions for consulting services.

Being a Democrat and a lawyer, Heflin should be able to count on significant money from trial lawyers, but so far it has yet to appear. He says he remains confident that traditional Democratic funders will come through in the end.

GOP in the Crosshairs

Republican moderates in swing statehouse districts are looking over their shoulders in Texas this year. Democrats are optimistic about their chances against two Dallas-Fort Worth Republicans with a combined 32 years of experience in the Legislature. Representatives Toby Goodman of Arlington and Tony Goolsby of Dallas have both attracted strong opponents. Democrat Paula Hightower Pierson, a former Arlington city councilwoman, is taking on Goodman, and Harriet Miller is challenging Goolsby.

Goodman would be vulnerable to any serious candidate given his narrow victories in 2002 and 2004, when he received 55 percent of the vote over a Democrat who didn’t run a real campaign. Pierson is a well-known Arlington community leader with eight years of experience as a councilwoman. The district is trending Democratic.

Goolsby, like Goodman, is running as a lawmaker with friends in both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. But the Texas House as controlled by Speaker Tom Craddick is a lonely place for a GOP moderate. In recent sessions, the Republican leadership has pursued a radical agenda without compromise. And in an election cycle where Democrats are energized and Republicans are fighting off scandal, the partisanship these two legislators have tried to bridge, usually ineffectually, grows more pronounced.

Miller has run, and lost, to Goolsby before. Two years ago, she earned 47 percent of the vote on a shoestring budget of $80,000. This time, she’s more seasoned and is a stronger campaigner. She’s also raising a lot more money. She says she is expecting to rake in $350,000. That should be enough to make up 3 percentage points, she believes.

Goolsby, who had about three times as much money as Miller at the end of July, says Miller’s extra cash won’t make the difference. “You don’t buy elections,” he says. “You impress people with what you do.”

And in Craddick’s House that hasn’t amounted to much.

He’s Back

El Paso Sheriff Leo Samaniego is at it again. After a public outcry—and a lawsuit by an indigent citizen—Samaniego halted six months of controversial roadblocks in June. By then deputies had detained 860 undocumented persons and turned them over to the Border Patrol, sending fear through communities where residents are a mix of U.S. citizens, legal residents, and undocumented relatives. On October 10, Samaniego announced he plans to restart the checkpoints.

Samaniego was unrepentant during the halt, despite claims that he was enforcing federal immigration law (not a sheriff’s job), using racial profiling, and jeopardizing public safety because local residents are wary now of contacting authorities about any crime, including domestic abuse, for fear of being asked for papers. Samaniego denied the assertions.

Around the time of the announcement, Samaniego, a Democrat defenestrated in April by the local party for supporting Republicans, began to appear in a TV campaign ad striding alongside Republican Texas Senate candidate Dee Margo. Margo’s Democratic opponent, 10-year incumbent state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), criticized the roadblocks earlier this year and urged Gov. Rick Perry to set guidelines to prevent further abuse of Operation Linebacker, the governor’s $10 million program for border sheriff’s departments.

“This is a public safety issue, not an immigration issue” and has “nothing to do” with Linebacker, said Samaniego about the resumption of stops. Rights watchdogs say they will keep a sharp eye on the sheriff, while taking a wait-and-see attitude. Traffic stops are legal; what’s out of bounds is using them as subterfuge for immigration-law enforcement.

Carl Starr, 49, the man who sued Samaniego, will be one of the sharpest eyes of all. He lives on a remote patch of unimproved land east of El Paso. When a deputy stopped a bus Starr was riding last spring and removed six persons, the disabled part-time law student got off, too, and asked if the deputy was with Linebacker, to which he answered “yes,” according to the civil complaint Starr filed against the department. “I thought, ‘My goodness, this is a public bus, I have standing, my Fourth Amendment rights have been violated,'” Starr said. In a July settlement, the sheriff agreed to train officers in civil immigration law–what they can and cannot do—and awarded Starr $500 in damages. “If I hear he has broken the contract, I can go back into court,” Starr said.

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Published at 12:00 am CST