DATE September 29, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Lou Dubose talks about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's
leadership skills and his new book "The Hammer"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News filling in for Terry Gross.
Last week a Texas grand jury indicted three political associates of House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay, charging them with illegally raising corporate
campaign contributions for a Texas political action committee DeLay founded.
DeLay says he's in the clear. Prosecutors say the investigation continues.
The House Ethics Committee is also looking into DeLay's involvement in a
bitterly contested redistricting battle in the Texas Legislature.
My guest, journalist Lou Dubose, says it shouldn't surprise anybody that
DeLay's aggressive tactics have drawn scrutiny. Dubose is a veteran Texas
journalist who's covered DeLay's rise from being an upstart Republican
legislator to holding one of the most powerful posts in Congress. He argues
that under DeLay's leadership, the House has become a less-democratic
institution. His book about DeLay with co-author Jan Reid is called "The
We invited Tom DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to appear on the
program, but we've not yet been able to schedule an interview. I spoke to Lou
Dubose last week.
Well, Lou Dubose, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. LOU DUBOSE (Co-author, "The Hammer"): Glad to be with you.
DAVIES: Tell us a bit about Tom DeLay's background. What kind of family did
he come from?
Mr. DUBOSE: Tom DeLay's kind of a classic American success story in the sense
that he comes from this hard-bitten Texas border town a little bit close to
Laredo, an oil company town, a dysfunctional family, alcoholic father, kicked
around the oil fields in Texas, kicked around the world, in Venezuela and
comes back to--and he goes to the University of--Baylor University and gets in
some trouble there, ends up at the University of Houston, sort of a
blue-collar place and ends up in the bug business. He's an exterminator in
the '80s. He's an exterminator in the suburbs of Houston, in Sugar Land.
And there's a kind of a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" quality about this
story by which he runs for office. He's in a small Republican club. They're
handicapping races and looking for a place to win in a state that's completely
dominated by Democrats in the 1980s. Every statewide office in both
legislative--upper and lower house of the Legislature. And they nominate him
as the one to run. He's the one to run because he has a real passion for the
office because the EPA has just banned Mirex, by which he's been killing ants,
a bioaccumulative pesticide that causes all sorts of health problems. And he
goes to war against regulation, and that war against regulation was his
signature mark in the Texas Legislature, where no one really took him
seriously. He was one of a small group of Republicans at the time.
DAVIES: How is he remembered in the Texas Legislature?
Mr. DUBOSE: Well, you know, as a bit of a joke. There were very few
Republicans then, and Tom DeLay was a guy at the back mike who would make
speeches, and people would cheer, `DeLay, DeLay,' the legislators would cheer,
because he was not a good speaker, one, and because there was always one
topic, and the topic was deregulation. He's also remembered as Hot Tub Tom
from--who lived in an apartment known as Macho Manner with several
DAVIES: Now wait a minute.
Mr. DUBOSE: It used to be a party house.
DAVIES: I've got to interrupt you. Macho Manor--was that the name of the
Mr. DUBOSE: That was the designated name of the house that he rented because
of the four guys who lived there. It was a well-known party house with a big
hot tub. And the Texas Legislature is a big party at times; it's 180 days
every other year, and Tom DeLay was a part of it. He was not very--so he's
not--he was not a player. However, having said that, Tom DeLay was faithfully
committed to one ideal, and that's the ideal that there's two much government
regulation. And most of his speeches and his fights were about deregulation.
DAVIES: When did Tom DeLay become a religious person?
Mr. DUBOSE: That was an important moment in his life because it provided the
focus, I think, that made him the power that he is today, and he's the most
powerful member in the House of Representatives. You know, he's admitted to a
number of writers and will talk about it openly that, you know, he showed up
in Washington as a hard-drinking man. You know, he was still Hot Tub Tom from
Macho Manor, and Washington offered, what he said, 10 to 12 martinis a night,
which seems like a lot of drinking. And he went into Frank Wolf's office in
1985, the year after he was elected to the House.
DAVIES: Now who was Frank Wolf?
Mr. DUBOSE: Frank Wolf's a Virginia congressman who's still there and who,
interestingly enough, at the moment is investigating two of Tom DeLay's
associates in an Indian gaming lobby scandal. But Tom--Frank Wolf is a
Christian conservative from Virginia. He invited Tom DeLay into his office,
and he told him he'd seen the way he was living and was pretty dissolute, and
he ought to consider watching a tape. And he showed him a tape by James
Dobson, Focus on the Family, the Colorado evangelical who markets these tapes
and does these speeches around the country about religious and family values,
So DeLay sees this, and he says that, you know, he fell to his knees and
realized that he'd neglected his family and he had neglected the Lord. And at
that moment he stops drinking, and he gives himself over to Christ and is
saved. And it provided him the focus that allowed him to stop drinking at
night and to focus on his work in the House. It also, you know, was an
important moment because it was the moment in 1985 at which the country was
becoming much more evangelical. So I don't--I'm not suggesting for a moment
that there's anything less than unauthentic about Tom DeLay's conversion, but
it happened at a moment that the country was converting and the Republican
Party in particular was embracing and being, really, overtaken by Christian
DAVIES: It's a lot like George Bush in a way.
Mr. DUBOSE: Very much without--I mean, George Bush--the distinction is
interesting. You know, George Bush was converted to Christianity by Billy
Graham walking around the grounds of Kennebunkport, the family compound in
Maine, where Billy Graham came and ministered to him personally. Tom DeLay
got it retail on a TV tape from James Dobson. But both men, who converted at
about the same time--it provided them the sort of focus and cleared
these--and, you know, it's kind of like Chapter 11 bankruptcy. You know, you
draw a line across your financial future, and everything you did wrong is
behind you. You draw a line here against your past--I'm sorry, behind your
past, and everything that you did wrong is behind you. And that's what this
did for them. I mean, this was a new beginning for Bush and DeLay at about
the same time.
DAVIES: Now DeLay came to Congress in 1984 with the Republican tide that
swept Ronald Reagan into a second term. And then I guess 10 years later he
ascended to the leadership when he ran against Newt Gingrich as candidate for
the Republican whip position and won. How did this guy successfully contend
for a leadership position within the Republican Caucus?
Mr. DUBOSE: Well, here is where the tale of Tom DeLay really begins. He did
it the way that modern political power is accumulated: through raising money
and controlling political action committees, PACs, and distributing that money
to members of the House, to candidates for House races. Comes the election
and he spends, oh, probably a half million dollars, $750,000 on Republican
candidates in the 1994 election. Now this was before the election. And DeLay
went out and didn't just waste his money. He raised money, and he spent it
very wisely, and he created something of a candidate school. He said, `I want
to be these guys--a brother to each one of them.' When they needed money, he
had money. When they needed videos on how to run a campaign, he had videos.
DAVIES: Now we're talking, in this case, about Republicans who want to run
Mr. DUBOSE: Yes.
DAVIES: And he finds these guys and gives them money, support, advice.
Mr. DUBOSE: Right. He almost created a candidate school for these
Republicans. And not only that, but he later admitted that--and a lobbyist
admitted that he was going to lobbyists and saying, you know, `We need to get
some money.' These candidates would call DeLay's personal political
consultant who was running his PAC, which is called ARMPAC, Americans for a
Republican Majority. They would call the consultant, ask for money. And if
they didn't have enough money in the PAC, they would call a lobbyist. Well,
DeLay later said that he had moved about $2 million of lobby money from the
lobby to his selected candidates. He traveled to 25 states. So that when the
Republicans won that election--this is the big election of '94, the class of
'94, that has shaped the modern House of Representatives; when they won
that election, Tom DeLay was--many of these--he was venerated by many of the
young conservatives who came into power.
So Newt's candidate--Gingrich, of course, was going to be speaker because he
had led the revolution. Gingrich picked his close friend and confidante Bob
Walker to be majority whip. And it was assumed that DeLay would lose to
Walker because he was running against Gingrich's candidate. He won. He won
because of the loyalty that was engendered by this investment of time and
money in this class of '94, which remains his power base until this day,
although he's expanded it.
DAVIES: My guest is Lou Dubose. He is the author, with Jan Reid, of "The
Hammer." It's a biography of House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're back with Lou Dubose. He is the author, with Jan Reid, of a
new biography of Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. It's called "The
You write in the book, Lou Dubose, that no member of Congress had ever raised
money the way Tom DeLay did. And you described how he raised a ton of money,
used that to back candidates he wanted, which then formed the power base he
needed within the Congress, the members who would elect him to majority
leadership positions. You also write that as he became the majority whip of
the House, he transformed the relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers.
What do you mean?
Mr. DUBOSE: You know, lobbyists--Democrats tend to shun them; liberal
Democrats even more. But, you know, they are the fourth branch of government.
What Tom DeLay did with what is called his K Street Project was he put the
lobby to work in the service of the Republican leadership where they are
today. The best example of how this was done was in 1998--of how egregious
this sort of assault on the lobby was or the domestication of the lobby on K
Street--you know, K Street being the stretch of buildings on the K Street in
Washington, where many lobby firms are located.
In 1998, the Republican leadership in the House put out the word that they
would no longer be dealing with Democratic lobbyists or lobbyists who'd been
affiliated with the Democratic Party. You know, the Democrats had been in
power for 40 years, so it was time for some adjustment. But in '94 they
started to talk about it. In '95, Tom DeLay starts calling lobbyists into his
office. And Dave Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf of The Post got inside this
story--and it was one of the last times DeLay would let reporters close to him
and--watched it unfold.
They started calling lobbyists in, corporate lobbyists, and saying, `We have
here the list of your contributions. See? You're in the book. This is
literal. You're in the book,' DeLay is telling them. `Here are your
contributions to Republican candidates. They're not sufficient. Look how
you're contributing to Democrats. That has to stop.' Well, the message got
out that if you didn't contribute to the Republican Party, you didn't have,
you wouldn't have access to the Republican leadership in the House.
DAVIES: So what DeLay was doing was telling lobbyists, `You have to quit
dump--downrating the Democrats, you have to...'
Mr. DUBOSE: Right.
DAVIES: `...contribute more to Republicans,' thereby undermining political
support for Democrats and creating lobbyists in Washington representing
interests who supported and only dealt with Republicans?
Mr. DUBOSE: Right.
DAVIES: He got into a fight where he played a role directly, in effect,
picking an industry lobbyist, right? This--in 1998.
Mr. DUBOSE: Well, where--in 1998, to really send a message to the lobby, Tom
DeLay and Newt Gingrich--this is the Republican House leadership--pulls a bill
from the House floor, on international--an international copyright bill that
had been in the works for two to three years and was only lacking a House vote
before it could be moved onto the president's desk to be signed. They pulled
it from the floor because the electronics industry had hired a Democratic
lobbyist--Dave McCurdy. You know, the bill ultimately got passed, but the
idea that it--that they would take a public act on the floor on the House of
Representatives and stop the passage of an important piece of legislation that
the entire business community was behind was a powerful signal to the lobby
that this is the new--this is a new Congress and you're going to play ball with
us. Not just with us but for us or you're not going to play at all. It was
followed by a rare act by the House Ethics Committee, which hasn't acted in
years. In seven years it hasn't taken up a complaint.
It in--acting in its own--without a complaint being filed, the House Ethics
Committee issued a reprimand to Tom DeLay and which has never been released.
Tom DeLay refuses to release that letter. But it also issued a summary to the
entire House saying that they could not take such acts on the floor, they
couldn't take a government act on behalf of a partisan client. It was a rare
moment of insight into what's--what actually happened in Washington, and it
was a powerful signal to the lobby. And the Ethics Committee's pretty much
DAVIES: Did--so did the bill pass because DeLay was--got the Ethics Committee
letter or was it that the industry got wise and did the right thing?
Mr. DUBOSE: No, I think--well, that's an interesting question. The industry
did get--didn't get wise. It stuck with Dave McCurdy, but it did get wise in
hiring a Republican lobbyist to work with him. And Dave McCurdy is the
big-picture guy, and the Republican lobbyist is a former Republican House
staffer who works the issues on the floor--works bills on the floor with
Republican members. So the issue--they found a way to get out of the corner
into which they backed themselves--industry did--and the bill passed.
DAVIES: Now I think a lot of listeners and a lot of Americans wouldn't have
enormous sympathy for lobbyists in Washington. I mean, they see them as
people who represent, you know, special interests, spreading money around and
often misleading lawmakers or writing bills they shouldn't be getting involved
with. Why should anybody worry about lobbyists being brow-beaten by Tom
DeLay? What's the concern about the democratic process here.
Mr. DUBOSE: I think the concern is that Majority Leader DeLay has now
employed, essentially, or has now intimidated the corporate lobby in such a
way that it works for him. There are incidents where lobbyists--one trade
associate--one lobbyist from K Street told me that an entire group of several
hundred lobbyists was called into a basement meeting at the Capitol and told
that `You're here today because you're the best lobbyists in town and also
because you're loyal Republicans and your job is to pass the president's tax
bill. No questions can be asked about content. The bill was not written yet.
We want this bill passed on the first day.' So, essentially, what you have is
the tail wagging or perhaps whipping the dog. The lobbyists were now--are now
working for the Republican Par--the Republican leadership in the House, which
is an--which gives the leadership enormous power.
DAVIES: You write a good bit about how the operation of Congress has changed
under the current Republican leadership. How has it developed?
Mr. DUBOSE: Enormous concentration of power in the hands of those at the top.
You know, the Gingrich revolution was, in part, about taking power away from
community leaders and placing that power in the hands of the leadership. So
by--and what they did was they put term limits on committee chairs of six
years. And that's about the time it takes to learn to run a committee in
Washington, particularly a complex committee, say, like the House Energy
Committee that just--where Billy Tauzin, Louisiana congressman, just left. So
there's much less power in the hands of the committee staff.
They also cut--slashed committee staffs, substantially, so that com--the
committees that used to draft legislation are now far more dependent on
lobbyists and the lobbyists have kind of filled the void and draft legislation
for committees. The speaker has much more presence at committee meetings, and
the leader. They--the leadership will often send people to committee meetings
and watch over what's happening as they never did before.
DAVIES: Well this...
Mr. DUBOSE: Congress...
DAVIES: Let me just cut in here. I mean, at least Democrats are at the
committee meetings, right? So you have a bipartisan input into legislation,
Mr. DUBOSE: In theory, Dave, but, actually, DeLay's staff and DeLay himself
has described Democrats as being marginal and irrelevant. Committees are now
really bifurcated and the work is done often--more often than not by small
task forces or by the majority staff of the committee, that is a Republican
staff ignoring the Democrats in a way that the Democrats never quite did while
they were in the majority for 40 years, although they were not above abusing
their power. But committee decisions are made by the committee majority.
Then the entire committee will convene and there will be a committee vote in
which the Democrats protest and the Republicans of the committee pass the
bill, and it reports out to the floor.
Voting is curtailed. The Congress votes two days a week. The House--I mean,
the House meets roughly two--two and a half days a week. So there are no
debates anymore. There are these sort of set pieces about these bills in
which everyone states how they feel about it, but the outcome is
predetermined. It's much more they've turned--they being the leadership. And
the leadership really is Tom DeLay. You know, Tom DeLay put Denny Hastert
into office in 1998.
DAVIES: He's the House speaker.
Mr. DUBOSE: Speaker Hastert. Dennis Hastert was Tom DeLay's deputy
as--deputy whip. He ran is whips campaign. He ran DeLay's whip campaign.
So, essentially, he put is lieutenant in--he named his lieutenant to be his
boss. And there is a much more parliamentary procedure to the Congress by
which Republicans know that they cannot vote against their leadership, and
DAVIES: Journalist Lou Dubose, author of "The Hammer" about House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay. We invited Tom DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to
appear on the show but haven't yet been able to schedule an interview. Lou
Dubose will be back at the second half of the show.
I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, how Tom DeLay got reluctant members of Congress to approve
the Medicare reform bill. We continue our discussion about the powerful House
majority leader with journalist Lou Dubose.
And Ed Ward reminds us of the bands that made up the Austin, Texas, rock scene
in the 1980s.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
My guest is Texas journalist Lou Dubose who's the co-author with Jan Reid
of a new book about Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The book is
called "The Hammer: God, Money, & the Rise of the Republican Congress."
You describe in the book the drafting and voting of the Medicare reform bill,
which had the Republican prescription drug plan. You say that the actual
drafting and debate of this measure was done in a closed caucus, closed to
Democrats and closed to the public and closed to the media. Is that right?
Mr. DUBOSE: Right. Entirely by accident, a reporter from the provinces in
Texas walked into the Republican Caucus, and this is well-known but you
generally don't get to see it. The bill had been already drafted in committee
by Republicans, and the Republicans were meeting and they had brought in Newt
to talk about how important this was, and they were telling their members that
they could not vote against this bill, that a vote against this bill was a
vote against the party and a vote against the president, and that if they
voted against this bill, they would end up like the Democrats. They would end
up in the minority position where they'd been for 40 years. And Tom DeLay sat
and watched as the bill was being whipped. They emerged with a consensus, and
even then, there were some conservative Republicans who bolted and tried to
vote against the bill.
This is the piece of legislation that passed after three hours on the House
floor. Now the House keeps votes open for 15 minutes. This passed, in
November, just before six in the morning after a three-hour vote on the House
floor in which Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert, the speaker, worked the floor.
The president was making phone calls, and finally they got their vote at
almost the third hour and they closed the vote and prevailed, an unprecedented
event in the House of Representatives.
DAVIES: Now maybe you should explain, when you say keep a vote open, what do
you mean, for the listeners?
Mr. DUBOSE: Yeah. Well, a clock runs on a vote. When there's a quorum
call, then there's a call to vote, a clock is turned on, and at the end of 15
minutes, you've either voted or you haven't. And the vote is closed. You
know, sometimes they're pushed to 17. The Democrats would be abusive and push
them to 20, to 22, but there was never anything like three hours, and a
three-hour vote, in the dark, in the wee hours of the morning, ending at just
before 6:00 with Barney Frank sputtering, `What's happened here, parla'--he
was demanding a point of parliamentary inquiry. It was unprecedented, and
that three hours was three hours of Tom DeLay strong-arming members on the
floor of the House.
There was also an allegation that Nick Smith was offered a
hundred-thousand-dollar bribe in order to secure his vote. Nick Smith is a
congressman who's a Republican congressman who was retiring, and the next day,
he said he was offered a hundred thousand dollars for his son's campaign, and
he was warned that there would be punitive action taken against his son if he
didn't vote for the prescription benefit bill.
DAVIES: Was there any action taken as a result of that allegation?
Mr. DUBOSE: You know, that is still pending before the House Ethics
Committee, and an interesting thing about the House Ethics Committee is that
there has been a truce. For seven years, no Democrat or no Republican has
filed a complaint before the House Ethics Committee because there's an
understanding that if you don't file against us, we won't file against you.
The first complaint was filed last year by Chris Bell, a Texas Democrat who
lost his seat as a result of Tom DeLay's redis--coming into the state and
redrawing the district lines.
DAVIES: You know, most city council, state legislatures have rules which are
designed to ensure that the public has input into the drawing up of
legislation. You know, bills have to be introduced in public. There has to
be a public hearing at which interested citizens can make their voices heard.
Votes have to be in public, and it's designed to ensure that it all occurs in
the open, that sun shines on the process, you know, and that all interested
parties at least have their say if not their way. Are you saying that just
doesn't happen in the United States House of Representatives anymore?
Mr. DUBOSE: It does in appearance. I mean, there are these committee
hearings that are sort of set pieces, but the decisions are made in the
caucus, in the Republican House Conference, and the decisions are made by
Republicans on the committee. And there is a pro forma process of protesting
if you're a public citizen and attending a hearing or if you're a lobbyist
that's shut out of the system attending a hearing, but it's pretty much a
closed system. And this is not just our theory, but it's pretty well
understood among congressional scholars in Washington.
DAVIES: One of the ways that the leadership is so effective is by the
discipline it imposes on members when an important vote occurs, and you write
that Tom DeLay, when he held the Republican whip position, was very, very
effective in getting legislation through. Give us an example of how he was
able to get his members to vote his way.
Mr. DUBOSE: I think the best example, Dave, is what happened in 1998 with
the Clinton impeachment. It was an extraordinary moment in American history.
The president was about to be impeached, and the consensus of the House was
not to impeach the president of the United States. A better prospect was what
was called censure-plus, and a majority of both parties had agreed that
censuring Bill Clinton, plus, you know, docking his retirement for so many
years, taking his bar card away from him, some sort of punishment--DeLay would
not let that happen. He seized this particular moment as his own.
You have to go back and remember that Newt Gingrich was resigning because the
Republicans had lost 22 seats in the election before that. They had
miscalculated and lost seats. Bob Livingston had been designated speaker by
Tom DeLay. It was revealed by Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, that Bob
Livingston had had extramarital affairs and he resigned. Gingrich was gone as
a power and Livingston was gone as a power. Hastert was in office and DeLay
was in charge. Tom DeLay threatened specific members that he would take their
chairs away from them. He sent an aide to Peter King, a Northeastern liberal,
and told him, `If you don't vote to impeach the president, the next two years
are going to be the most difficult years of your life.'
DAVIES: How would he make his life difficult?
Mr. DUBOSE: He would never get a bill passed. He would never get a hearing
of a bill. He would be utterly marginalized. So here you had the de facto
speaker of the House--Tom DeLay was then and probably still is the de facto
speaker of the House, although there's some debate about that--setting up a
war room, staffing the war room, you know, with his own aides, and sending out
blast faxes to a hundred television and radio stations a day, and I'd like to
take one little segment of that. In sort of the book, it gives you a sense of
what the war room was...
DAVIES: Now just to clarify for listeners, we're talking about Tom DeLay
setting up kind of an operations center to drive the impeachment of President
Mr. DUBOSE: Right. And he called that center--they designated this center
the war room, and he had--all of his staff was dedicated to the impeachment of
the president because the House didn't want to do it. You know, Democratic
bodies look for an equilibrium, and equilibrium was not what the impeachment
of the president for lying about sex was about.
DAVIES: You believe that Bill Clinton would not have been impeached were it
not for this obsessive drive on the part of Tom DeLay.
Mr. DUBOSE: I mean, the House--Lanny Davis was Bill Clinton's lawyer who had
left the White House staff, and he was talking to a lot of reasonable
Republicans who were in the House at the time: John McCain, Bill McCollum,
who just ran for Senate in Florida and lost, Lindsey Graham, who's now in the
Senate. And these guys were saying, `Let's cut a deal and let's get out of
this constitutional impasse.' Bob Livingston, while he was speaker designate,
sat down, before he resigned from the position he never quite got to,
speaker-elect, and said, `My God, we're about to impeach the president of the
United States. We've got to stop this.' Everyone--all the momentum in the
House was moving away from it, and there was a consensus and a majority not to
do it. Tom DeLay was insistent that Bill Clinton be impeached, and he
prevailed and he prevailed by using the really crudest methods of--you know,
he broke the last 20 arms and made sure the Republican Party, the Republican
members of the House, enough of them voted to impeach.
DAVIES: My guest is Lou Dubose. He is the author with Jan Reid of "The
Hammer." It's a book about Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
We'll take more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're back with Lou Dubose. He is the author of "The Hammer," with
his co-writer Jan Reid. It's a biography of Republican House Majority Leader
The redistricting battle in the state of Texas last year--that is to say the
redrawing of congressional matters--made headlines with lawmakers hiding out
in motels across state lines, but it's generated a major constitutional battle
and a whole lot of trouble for Tom DeLay and some of his associates. This
began, I guess, with Tom DeLay deciding he had to get more members of Congress
from Texas, but to do that, he had to take over the Texas state House first,
Mr. DUBOSE: Right, which the Republicans had not been able to do, you know,
since Reconstruction, is the cliche, a hundred and thirty years. You know,
this is the other end of the arc of the character of Tom DeLay. This is Mr.
Smith comes to Washington to fight deregulation and that was 20 years ago. I
think it was in 1984. Now, you know, he's facing several investigations and
his top aides have been indicted by a Texas grand jury here in Austin. What
happened was in 2001, he and Jim Ellis, an aide of his who had run his ARMPAC,
his big funding combine--Jim Ellis and Tom DeLay were actually driving around
in Texas, brainstorming about how they could take over the state House,
because the House was the only thing that was stopping the state congressional
lines from being redrawn to benefit Republican legislators, congressmen.
So they decided they would replicate in Texas what they had done with ARMPAC
in Washington, raise a huge amount of money, invest it specifically--target
elections that they could win and win the state House, then appoint a speaker
or see that a speaker was appointed who would go along with their proposal to
redraw the state's congressional districts to pick up five to seven seats for
the Republican Party in the US Congress. You know, Tom DeLay was very frank
about this. He said, `I'm the majority leader. I want more seats.' He
presided over the entire affair, but what they did wrong--and it seems like
they clearly broke the law or at least a district attorney of Texas did--was
they raised and spent corporate money on elections in Texas. There's a law...
DAVIES: And to do this--let's just make the point here. It's interesting to
see that when he began raising money for, after all--which were state House
seats in communities in Texas, his fund-raising ARMs got checks from
corporations far and wide, I mean, all over the country, right?
Mr. DUBOSE: A hundred thousand dollars from a nursing home association in
Massachusetts; $25,000 from a Kansas City utility and--Westar. This money
came pouring in from all over the country, and there was no apparent reason
for them to be donating money to Texas House races. After when they were
asked for $25,000--they were actually asked for 58--a a Westar executive wrote
to another executive, `Tom DeLay's a Texas guy. Why are we doing it?' They
were doing it to cultivate favor with the majority leader and the most
powerful member of the US Congress.
So they spend $1.5 million on 22 House seats, along with the Texas Association
of Business, that spent about 1.7 on the same 22 House seats, and they elect
for the first time in a hundred and thirty years a Republican House. The
speaker who is appointed is an old friend of Tom DeLay's. Tom DeLay is there
the day he's sworn in for office, and lo and behold, they begin to talk about
redistricting. Now, you know, in fairness to the Republicans, the Democrats
have been in control for a long time here, and there did need to be an
adjustment of lines to create a more reasonable balance of Democrats and
Republicans. But the way in which it was done, in an off-census year after
three judge had drawn the lines because the Legislature couldn't do it in
2001, suggested that it was bought, and that's what brings us to district
attorney Ronnie Earl.
DAVIES: Let's get to that. Yeah.
Mr. DUBOSE: OK.
DAVIES: I mean, so the district attorney, Ronnie Earl, has now issued
indictments of three people who were involved in this effort. What did they
do wrong, according to the indictment?
Mr. DUBOSE: Well, according to the indictment, what they did wrong was they
knowingly raised money from corporations. There was a law passed in 1905 in
Texas that makes the spending of corporate money on political campaigns
illegal. It was to protect the state from the robber barons, and it was part
of a national movement to sort of clean up politics. Ronnie Earl is an
interesting character because he's sort of the last man standing in Texas.
Because he's the DA in the capital, he has statewide prosecutorial authority.
So they didn't think he would do it. You know, the Republicans control every
elected statewide office in Texas.
Now the AG, the attorney general, is Republican, a former Karl Rove client, so
they didn't think that there would be anybody to stop them. And lo and
behold, he did, recently last week handing down three indictments of
individuals, three top Tom DeLay fund-raisers, and eight corporations who
contributed money to DeLay's Texas PAC, TRMPAC, which is the PAC that elected
a Republican House.
DAVIES: What Tom DeLay has said, in response to the indictments, is, `This
just emphasizes what I've been saying all along that this investigation is not
about me. I haven't been asked to testify. I haven't been asked to provide
any records. And I haven't been asked to come as a witness.' Is Tom DeLay in
the clear here?
Mr. DUBOSE: Not at all. This investigation is clearly aimed, in the end, I
think at Congressman Tom DeLay, and the DA when asked about Tom DeLay, he
said, `Anyone who has violated the law in Texas will be a target of the
investigation.' What's happening is by calling in these corporate funders who
wrote the checks, one of which was written to from the Williams Corporation, a
Kansas City util--I'm sorry, an Oklahoma utility gas company, a $25,000 check
was--the salutation said, `Dear Congressman Tom DeLay, enclosed is the $25,000
promised at the fund-raiser.' Well, by calling these people in--and they're
facing prison terms. These three fund-raisers are facing prison terms, one up
to 99 years. This is a serious prosecution that is looking in the direction
of the majority leader of the US House, by a little guy in Austin who has four
attorneys working for him and a public integrity unit.
It was a remarkable moment when the indictments actually came down because no
one thought that a district attorney in Texas would not only indict three of
Tom DeLay's fund-raisers but would also indict eight corporations. So
everybody's going to be tried before a court, and a Texas jury is going to
look at out-of-state donors coming into the state and essentially buying
elections here, and ultimately this could lead to Congressman DeLay.
DAVIES: Well, Lou Dubose, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. DUBOSE: Thank you, Dave. It was a pleasure.
DAVIES: Journalist Lou Dubose. His book with Jan Reid is called "The
We invited Tom DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to appear on the show
but haven't, as yet, been able to schedule an interview.
Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on the Austin, Texas, music scene of the
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Music scene in Austin, Texas, in the 1980s
DAVE DAVIES, host:
The mid-1980s saw an explosion of regional rock scenes across the United
States in unlikely places like Hoboken, New Jersey, Athens, Georgia, and
Minneapolis. Naturally, there was also one in Austin, Texas, and our rock
historian, Ed Ward, was there.
(Soundbite of music)
ED WARD reporting:
It was called The Beach, and like a beach, it was a great place to spend a
summer evening drinking beer and hanging out. It was a club in Austin, Texas,
in the mid-'80s, a place people graduated to after the frenzy of punk seemed
too much and yet the idea of leaving rock 'n' roll behind was inconceivable.
It was also very close to the University of Texas campus, and so it gave birth
to a remarkable music scene that few, except those who were there, remember.
What happened at The Beach was pretty typical of Austin music in those days
before the city was on the national music map. It both did and didn't have
links to what was going on in the outside world, and it was enough of its own
thing that the record business was completely puzzled by it. In fact, only
one of its stars ever made it onto the national stage and then only as a cult
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: It takes a friend to lie when it's over. It takes a
fool to cry when it's over. Take the sun, take the sun, take the sun from the
sky and it's over. The rain won't help you when it's over. The rain won't
help you when it's over. Two hundred...
WARD: Alejandro Escovedo had blown into town with the punk country band Rank
& File and stayed when they left. Before long, he'd enlisted two other
guitarists, his brother Javier and Jon Dee Graham who'd been with Austin punk
pioneers, The Skunks, and formed a band called the True Believers. With a
three-guitar front line that all wrote songs, too, they were formidable to
watch. Once the chemistry between them was right, Alejandro, being a
workaholic, put them on tour, not just around Texas but nationally.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: The road is heavy, times are tough, I
(unintelligible) Hard road, hard road. Don't get angry, don't get sad,
don't despair about the things you've never had. Hard road, hard road.
WARD: Jesse Sublett was the leader of The Skunks, who had broken up by this
point, and in a rather bitter article in the Austin Chronicle, he
inadvertently gave the scene a name. He'd meant the term `new sincerity' as a
put-down. When you listen to the band that called itself Zeitgeist, it
somehow seems appropriate.
(Soundbite of music)
ZEITGEIST: (Singing) It was yes, yes, yes, in the freight train rain. I was
coming. I was driving. I was training incognito. This is heaven's best in
the freight train plane. I just don't know if the birds are anymore, that I'm
living, that I'm breathing. And I don't know if I can tell you. Yes, I think
that I'll just go there and die. It was yes, yes, yes...
WARD: What happened to Zeitgeist was, sad to say, more typical of these
bands. They signed to DB Records in Athens, Georgia, America's hottest rock
city at the time because of REM. Almost ready to release their first album,
"Translate Slowly," Zeitgeist were hit with a lawsuit. An avant-garde
performance ensemble in Minneapolis had copyrighted the name, so the band's
leader, John Croslin, renamed them after his favorite William Faulkner novel,
The Reivers. Although this first album was superb, the combination of an
unfamiliar name, one many people couldn't pronounce, and the small label
hobbled the band.
It seemed like there was a new band every week for a while. A boyish-looking
law student named Mike Hall held parties at his house where he and some of his
friends would fool around with guitars, and one day, they metamorphosed into a
band, the Wild Seeds.
(Soundbite of music)
WILD SEEDS: (Singing) Now when Debbie left home, she had a lot on her mind.
She left a lot on wondering boys behind. Big and able, it was me, I tried to
forget, I tried valiantly, but Debbie came back. I was asleep, but I'll take
that. Debbie came back. Debbie came back.
WARD: They wound up with a record deal and toured, too, and because Mike was
also a journalist and has a stunning way with words, they became critics'
favorites, always the kiss of death. Still, they're remembered by many for
their affectionate hard rock parody, "I'm Sorry, I Can't Rock You All Night
Long," an experience both new and sincere for a lot of their crowd.
There were others, Doctors' Mob, whose motto was `show up drunk, show up late,
or don't show up at all,' which made them sort of the local equivalent of The
Replacements but without the nastiness. Timbuk3 made it from busking(ph) on
the streets to a top 20 single after MTV filmed a special in Austin, and
Daniel Johnston, a very strange young man, also became a cult figure. The
oddest, least categorizable and downright weirdest band of this era was Glass
(Soundbite of music)
GLASS EYE: (Singing) Touchdown, tingling pain. It's a punch-down. You're
doing it again. Stand in the corner 'cause you're doing it again. The good
book promises that the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places
will be made straight. And the crooked places may be made straight, but the
heart longs for the crooked place.
WARD: I've always thought that if Glass Eye had made it to Europe, they'd
still be going, but perhaps the four personalities whose creative tension made
such unique music would have made that impossible. Brian Beattie's lead bass
work and Kathy McCarty's haunted singing, propelled by Scott Marcus' drum
explosions and Stella Weir's odd impassivity behind her keyboards, kept plenty
of people watching, though.
Eventually, as all scenes do, this one disappeared. The club, The Beach,
closed after some weirdness, but by then, these bands were being booked all
over Austin when they weren't on tour, but families, a lot of these bands were
sexually integrated, and careers lured many away, while others collapsed under
the weight of record company failures. Many of the bands never even recorded,
and those who did have been long out of print. But for those of us who saw
this come and go, we'll never forget it. Maybe the same thing happened where
you spent the mid-'80s.
DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(Soundbite of music)
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