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the event. “Just the freeeeee tickets!” she said. Pressed for an opinion on DeLay, she said he was “a good congressman” and a “conservative leader.” One of her five companions from a leadership institute for young conservatives offered up a more sober defense of the majority leader, even if it was yet another variation of the evening’s message. “We’re here to support Tom DeLay because he is a proven leader. And I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, or at least not anything that other members of the House have done,” said Anna Hager of the Leadership Institute. Meanwhile, Morton Blackwell, the Institute’s president worked the crowd, handing out “Hooray for DeLay” stickers. His DeLay tribute speech, in which he repeatedly referred to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a “socialist,” was pitch perfect for this crowd. The crowd filled the standard expandable ballroom, with an accordion divider that opened up to accommodate what official counters said were 912 guests. \(There were about 10 es for women. But unlike most D.C. banquets, this one was dominated by the off-the-rack crowd. Entire tables were filled foundations that do the thinking and issues advocacy for the conservative movement. Four of the guests at the Rightmarch table were young staffers from non-profits, who accepted an offer of free tickets to the event. Other tableseach with a complement of red and white wine, which didn’t seem to offend the evangelicals, and a placard identifying the table sponsorwere filled by the young foot soldiers of the conservative movement on the tab of wealthier, older patrons. Equally noteworthy was who wasn’t in the Capitol Hilton Ballroom for the Thursday night DeLay tribute. The hotel sits at an intersection with K Street, the home of the lobbying shops, trade associations, and political law firms that write our laws and play a central role in the modern Congress, particularly in the House. Yet there were few lobbyists in the second-floor ballroom or the adjacent mezzanine overlooking the main entrance. The biggest names from K Street were Bob Livingston and Bill Paxon, two former House members indebted \(if that’s the DeLay led a disastrous House coup designed to overthrow a weakened Newt Gingrich and install Paxon as speaker. When the plot unraveled, Gingrich came down hard on Paxon, for whom he had created a special position on his leadership team. Paxon resigned and moved on to the lobby. Livingston, who delivered a forceful speech blaming the liberal media for DeLay’s problems \(and claiming both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal rejected his op-ed pieces defendGingrich finally did collapse under the accumulated weight of scandal and lost House seats in 1998, DeLay used his influence and his whip team to make Livingston speaker-designate. DeLay’s kingmaking unraveled when Hustler publisher Larry Flynt revealed Livingston’s extramarital affairs. Livingston left the House and he also moved onto the lobby. \(DeLay then “This is not an event for the boys and girls from K Street:’ said Cleta Mitchell, the American Conservative Union board member who served as the emcee for the event. Even that statement was odd at an event honoring Tom DeLay. The majority leader is defined by his relationship with the business lobby. By his own admission he raised more than $2 million in lobby money for Republican candidates in 1994, the year the party took control of the House. His leadership suite is the Capitol’s best-known finishing school for top positions on K Street. And with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, DeLay founded the K Street Project, an informal but highly successful Republican campaign to stop lobbying firms from hiring Democrats while compelling them to contribute to Republican candidates. \(Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform bought a $2,000 table. But he was conspicuously absent from it. News reports of his relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, intricately involved in DeLay’s growing ethics scandals, made him a potential blemish on an event celebratTickets to the event were sold to the public for the low-price of $250. So K Street’s decision to stay home and catch it on CSPAN was hard to figure. Even more unusual was the House Republican Conference passing on a “lifetime achievement” banquet for its own majority leader. Only 20 to 25 members of the 233-member Republican Conference DeLay leads turned out to support him. Melissa Hart, the Pennsylvania Republican whose work DeLay praised during his speech at the banquet, had said she would be there. Then she declined. No one from the Texas delegation showed up. Denny Hastert phoned in his congratulations. National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Reynolds did the same but stayed away. Republican House Conference chair Deborah Pryce was not on the video screen or in the room. Only two House Republicans, Tom Feeney and Trent Franksnot big players in party politics or policymakingwere eagerly talking to the press. Feeney is an ardent DeLay supporter from Florida. He has received $10,000 from his first race in 2002. He also works on a House team coordinating DeLay’s support. He said DeLay is a target because “he is the most effective leader the House has seen in 50 years.” The most unexpected House member in the crowd was John Boehner, the Ohio congressman who has openly feuded with DeLaywho helped muscle him out of power after the 1998 elections. Boehner bought a $2,000 table \(front row, The New York Times the day before the event: “I just wanted to be supportive.” He wasn’t working the press or the crowd. House no-shows created a moment of embarrassment, when emcee Cleta Mitchell summoned New Jersey Congress -continued on page 26 MAY 27, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7