DeLay 'The Hammer' broken by scandal

Tom DeLay rose from humble beginnings as the owner of a Texas pest control business to become known as “The Hammer”—one of the most successful and feared politicians in the United States.

DeLay rose to become the Republican leader in the House of Representatives and a key powerbroker in any decision in the US Congress, until a Texas prosecutor threw a spanner into the political works.

DeLay announced late on Monday that he will be leaving Congress within months and will not stand for his Sugarland, Texas seat again.

It is a hammer blow to President George Bush’s Republican party in a key election year and though DeLay told Time magazine he felt “liberated” by his decision to quit, it was a crushing withdrawal for one of the most ambitious politicians in American politics.

“DeLay’s fall has been stunningly swift, one of the most brutal and decisive in American history,” Time said in its report announcing DeLay’s decision.

Though officially DeLay (58) was second-in-command to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, many political observers say DeLay was the real mover and shaker in Republican party politics, second only to Bush. He had for years angled for Hastert’s job—a promotion that would put him just one step below the US vice-president in order of presidential succession.

But a felony indictment on campaign finance charges made last September has hit those ambitions. A two-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10 000 is possible if he is found guilty.

DeLay and his lawyers insisted on his innocence.
But the indictment forced DeLay to temporarily give up his post as House majority leader last year.

He won a primary to stand for his seat again in the November elections but the majority was not as big as he would have wanted. Even if he is cleared, it was uncertain whether Texas voters would have continued to back DeLay.

A born-again Christian who put his religious beliefs at the centre of his politics, DeLay embraces an anti-abortion, pro-gun, tax cutting agenda. He is also known for his child advocacy work, especially concerning adopted and foster children.

On foreign policy issues he was a staunch supporter of Taiwan and Israel, and generally backs a pro-military line.

DeLay was born in Laredo, Texas, near the Mexico border. His father worked in the oil and gas industry, and DeLay spent several childhood years in South America when his father was posted to the rural Venezuelan interior.

He graduated from the University of Houston in 1970 with a degree in biology, and opened a small pest control business in the city. He then entered politics, serving three years in the Texas legislature.

According to the 2004 biography The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money and the Rise of the Republican Congress, DeLay was known around the state capital of Austin as “Hot Tub Tom” for the party animal lifestyle he led before his religious conversion.

Elected to Congress in 1984, he came to be known as “The Hammer” after honing ruthless but effective political skills.

In eight years DeLay rose to be a top Republican legislator as he proved a skillful vote-counter while serving as the “whip” enforcing the party line.

In that leadership position he has been known to resort to political knee-capping to keep renegade party members in line.

The House ethics committee told him off three times in 1994 for official conduct deemed inappropriate by members.

DeLay and his wife Christine have one grown daughter named Danielle. They became grandparents in 2002. ‒ AFP

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