Point Austin: Pride Brought Low

Remorseless as ever, Tom DeLay finally encounters a little bit of justice

Point Austin
In his inimitable fashion, Tom DeLay confessed.

"I am passionate, and very arrogant, and I am guilty of that," he told Judge Pat Priest at his sentencing hearing Monday afternoon. "I believe in what I believe in, and I have fought for my conservative values." That was as much as the disgraced and convicted former U.S. House majority leader would offer the court by way of remorse, and his declaration served at least to confirm what Assistant District Attorney Steve Brand had said earlier – that DeLay had shown "no remorse whatsoever," and indeed, "The man, according to him, does nothing wrong."

Moreover, according to DeLay, his entire prosecution was a partisan plot visited upon him by a shadowy conspiracy of Dem­o­crats, beginning in 1995 when he became majority leader. Nancy Pelosi and Patrick Kennedy, DeLay told the court, "announced that they were going to take me down." It's understandable that DeLay would dispute his prosecution, but his allocution suggested that Monday's proceedings were just the latest stage in a vague but targeted plot that led directly from D.C. to this Travis County courtroom. "This district attorney, Ronnie Earle, was approached by somebody," he charged vaguely, although Earle is long gone, and the notion that this local prosecution under Texas law had been somehow orchestrated from Washington – beginning more than a decade ago – was nothing short of bizarre.

In any case, DeLay insisted, he had done nothing more than what "everybody else" in politics was doing, so he couldn't possibly be guilty of anything. "I can't be remorseful," he told the judge, "for something I don't think I did."

Judge Priest (for the record, a retired San Antonio Democrat appointed to this task by Republican Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson) wasn't buying it. The judge noted that the Republican National Committee's Terry Nelson had testified that he had never before seen the kind of money switch DeLay had orchestrated – to a state where corporate campaign contributions were banned – and Priest added that if he hadn't agreed with the jury's verdict, he would have directed a not-guilty one.

Most importantly, Priest ringingly rejected DeLay's claim that he had been selectively prosecuted for partisan reasons. "Before there were Repub­licans and Democrats, there was America, and America is based on the rule of law."

Biblical Verdict

Priest acknowledged that the appellate courts might not agree with the trial's outcome, and DeLay may never spend a day inside a Texas prison. Travis County prosecutors had brought a criminal complaint for what began as a political crime, in part because they knew it meant a change of venue from Fort Bend County, where favorite son DeLay would simply never be called to account. Following the sentencing, DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said tersely, "This will not stand." During the hearing, DeGuerin preceded his client in insisting that whether DeLay broke the law is "still an open question" and in claiming partisan persecution. "I call myself a yellow dog Democrat," said the Houston lawyer, "but what I've seen the Dem­ocrats do in this case makes me sick to my stomach."

Introducing character references from various dignitaries (among them Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), DeGuerin had brought on DeLay's former House colleague Dennis Hastert to witness to DeLay's good works and religiosity, e.g., his organizing of congressional bible study. Assistant D.A. Gary Cobb, asking the court for 10 years in prison (DeLay would wear probation, Cobb said, "like Jesus on the cross wearing a crown"), cited his own biblical verse: "Whatsoever a man sows, that also shall he reap."

Just a Bug-Killer

The headline news quickly became the three-year prison sentence, certainly a surprise to DeLay and his defense, and to many others in the Heman Sweatt Building courtroom. Assistant D.A. Brand had begun his closing by arguing that just because DeLay wears "a coat and tie" doesn't mean he should be judged more loftily than citizens who labor in less fancy clothing. That triggered another self-pitying lament from DeLay; he had begun his career, he recalled, as "a bug-killer" who crawled under houses for a living when he "didn't even own a coat and tie." He was only being prosecuted, he insisted, because "they don't agree with my politics."

It's abundantly clear that DeLay hasn't learned anything from this decadelong episode, except to reinforce his long-held conviction that the evil Democratic hosts of secular liberalism have always been out to get him. The one-time scourge of K Street is now directly threatened with imprisonment – although it's an even bet that the GOP-packed appellate courts will find a way to let him off. No one who recalls DeLay's enthusiastic support of the slave capitalists of Saipan (see The Hammer, by Lou Dubose and Jan Reid) can doubt that he deserves a little self-reflection in a Texas prison, even if for some of the lesser of his many sins.

Meanwhile, the fully ripened fruits of DeLay's election thievery (and consequent wholesale gerrymandering) are on current display at the state Capitol, where the central drama concerns the battle between the two wings of the Republican Party over who can be more effectively ruthless on working people and immigrants. Thanks in large part to DeLay's handiwork, the GOP will soon postpone the political reconstruction of Texas for at least another decade, by disenfranchising the majority of Texans in the name of "limited government" – that is, rule by the same old white guys who were running the state when DeLay was a small-time backbencher best known as Hot Tub Tom.

At the time, they were mostly Democrats. Since desegregation and the ascendance of DeLay and his party, they now mostly call themselves Republicans. Whatever they call themselves, they remain dedicated to government of the many by the few, and they never get tired, they never run out of money, and they're not at all particular about what it takes to maintain their hold on power. But every once in a while, they overreach – allowing the rest of us a little satisfaction in the infrequent application of actual justice.

The conviction and sentencing of Tom DeLay is one of those times.

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Tom DeLay, Pat Priest, Gary Cobb, Ronnie Earle, Dick DeGuerin, Heman Sweatt

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