In DeLay's Home District, Rumblings of Discontent Surface
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL, New York Times
April 17, 2005
SUGAR LAND, Tex., April 16 - Patricia Baig, a substitute teacher with a comfortable inheritance, paid $2,776 this week to call for Representative Tom DeLay's resignation.
Ms. Baig, 57 - who identifies herself as a fellow Republican of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader, and is one of his constituents - took out a full-page advertisement on Wednesday in the 62,000 copies of the weekly free Fort Bend Southwest Sun. It urged demonstrators "who want ethical reform" to rally against Mr. DeLay's speech Saturday night to the National Rifle Association convention in Houston, "to protest the actions of Representative DeLay and ask for his resignation," while adding her gun-owner's caveat: "This is NOT a protest of the N.R.A.!"
The Texas fallout from Mr. DeLay's citations for ethical lapses and the investigations of political fund-raisers and lobbyists close to him has been hard to gauge, but there are signs of restiveness here in his hometown, named for the historic plantation and defunct Imperial Sugar refinery that now beckons developers to this thriving Houston suburb of 64,000 people.
Another Republican, who runs the other weekly county paper, has also been openly hostile to Mr. DeLay, and a poll two weeks ago for The Houston Chronicle found nearly 40 percent of 501 voters saying that their opinion of Mr. DeLay had declined since last year, with 11 percent saying their opinion of him had improved. His Democratic opponent from 2004 has already declared a rematch next year, and Mr. DeLay could even have a primary opponent.
In Austin, a state judge may rule as soon as this week in a lawsuit by five losing Democratic candidates against the treasurer of a political action committee, formed by Mr. DeLay, that the Democrats say improperly funneled corporate money to state races. A criminal investigation is pending.
In addition, some lawmakers in the Texas capital say Mr. DeLay's troubles have subtly affected issues in the state legislature.
Ms. Baig, who signed her advertisement with her maiden name, P. A. Perine, "A Texas Republican for Ethical Reform," at a post office box in neighboring Missouri City, said she often used her maiden name and was not trying to hide.
"Tom DeLay is not representing his district," said Ms. Baig as she buttonholed neighbors on Friday in support of the rally. "Tom DeLay is taking care of Tom DeLay. He has become an embarrassment to his district. It's time for him to go."
Mr. DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said he was not aware of the advertisement and questioned the fairness of The Chronicle's poll. "What's clear," he said, "is that the congressman has been elected and re-elected year after year for two decades because of the work he does serving the voters of the 22nd District."
Eric Thode, the Fort Bend County Republican chairman since 1992 and the former public relations director of Enron, said Mr. DeLay still enjoyed strong support at home. "Democrats can't win the seat," he said. "They can spend anything they want. It's a Republican district."
In a letter to The Southwest Sun that the paper said it planned to publish, Mr. Thode, 39, also questioned whether Ms. Baig was a Republican since, he said, records showed she had not voted in Republican primaries and was not affiliated with a Republican club. He also said that she had not donated to Republican candidates but gave $750 to Mr. DeLay's Democratic opponent, Richard Morrison, last year and that she tried to hide her identity until Channel 11 News tracked her down.
Ms. Baig responded that lots of Republicans do not vote in primaries or join clubs or make contributions.
Darlene Hall, publisher of the weekly, one of a chain of 34 owned by Houston Community Newspapers, said the paper editorially backed Mr. DeLay and ran the advertisement purely to make money.
By 7 p.m. Saturday, about 150 demonstrators had gathered across the street from the Hilton hotel where some 3,000 N.R.A. delegates were meeting to hear Mr. DeLay. "Put the hammer in the slammer," some of the protesters chanted, a reference to the congressman's nickname.
"He's an embarrassment," said David Edwards, 65, of Sugar Land, a mortgage broker who said he was an evangelical Christian and a member of the N.R.A.
Inside the ballroom, Mr. DeLay received a roaring welcome. Many members wore stickers reading, "I'm for N.R.A. and Tom DeLay."
Mr. DeLay said, "I hope the national media saw that."