DeLay-ed: Appeals Court Considers Former Lawmaker's Ballot Future

In a case that could change the political landscape of the 22nd Congressional District, a three-judge federal panel in New Orleans is considering an appeal by the Texas Republican Party that would allow the replacement of Tom DeLay on the November ballot. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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It's been a case of political one-upsmanship, with DeLay winning the Republican primary in March, then quitting Congress in June, only to be told by a federal judge that, despite a change of address to Virginia, he has to stay on the ballot. DeLay hinted recently that if he's forced to run, he'll actively campaign. Local political analyst George Strong says the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision will at least move the process forward.

"Either way, people have got to start campaigning. If they decide to let Tom DeLay get off the ballot, then the Republican Party has to get together, representatives from all four counties, and nominate somebody to run against Nick Lampson in the fall. We're in August and that means about three months from now the election will be held. I think the court understands the necessity to make a decision and get it done fairly quickly."

Strong says the state legislature enacted laws in the late 1980's that made it harder for parties to replace candidates, a strategy that was once commonly used and abused.

"The legislature, in their wisdom, put some stringent standards. I mean, obviously if you die, you can be replaced and I think a couple of other instances, become incapacited in some respect. But they were making it very clear that you just couldn't be replaced because you thought that you were going to lose the general election in the fall."

University of Houston assistant political science professor Timothy Nokken says a protracted court battle hurts Texas Republicans and candidates who have lined-up to replace DeLay.

"They don't have a candidate, so none of the people who want the job can really credibly go raise money and essentially can't mount a campaign. The Democrats, I would contend, it's actually pretty good for them. The longer they hold out, the less time a Republican candidate has to raise money and campaign."

Democrats had hoped that if forced to stay on the ballot, DeLay wouldn't campaign and Nick Lampson would be the easy winner. It's scenario that isn't such a sure thing now that DeLay has hinted he might go ahead and actively campaign if the appeals court rules against the Texas Republican party.

"DeLay certainly might be forced to run and he may well win, but I think if you ask Democrats and ask Lampson who's the Republican that you'd most like to run against,it would be Tom DeLay, because regardless of who the Republicans nominate, this race is going to be a referendum on Tom DeLay and his style of politics."

The appeals court could come back with a decision within days or a couple of weeks.

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