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Thursday, April 06, 2006

DeLay delays

Not politics, really, more a question of law. And no comment arising from it, no diatribe or rant; just something to keep an eye on.

DeLay's announced (and pending) resignation has, as you might imagine, stirred a lot of interest locally. Fort Bend Now (a county next to Harris County, which includes Sugar Land, DeLay's home) has several articles on this matter, all of them interesting. (and go to the link now to see a picture of the DeLay supporters who tried to oppose Lampson's press conference today).

Let's start with the "special election." Apparently there is a fight over that, with DeLay telling Rush Limbaugh:

“No, there won’t be a special election,” DeLay told Limbaugh. “Texas has a law that there’s only two dates that you can have a special election, November and May, and this weekend the deadline for the May special election will have passed.”
Okay, here's some of the legal: DeLay is flat wrong. Texas Election Code Sec. 203.004 is the applicable law in this situation (scroll down to Chapter 12), and it doesn't specify either May or November as the only dates for a special election. This is why Delay is an ex-exterminator, not a lawyer, and why his name is not on any piece of legislation that ever became law. But pay attention to what he is saying, because it's in accord with the wishes of the Texas GOP:

DeLay’s resignation “will lead the governor to declare the seat vacant and either set a special election or leave the seat vacant for the remainder of the term ending December 31,” Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Eric Thode said in an email to party faithful on Wednesday. “If one is called, the special election should have NO impact on how the place on the ballot gets filled. In fact, I would argue that it could impair the Republican Party in November.”
Oh, well, we can't let a little thing like no representative in the U.S. House for District 22 stand in the way of the good of the GOP, now, can we? There's another problem, of course: Texas has open primaries, and has no law restricting who can run in a special election. Which means:

Gary Gillen, a run-off candidate against Linda Howell to succeed Thode as county party chairman, said a special election to replace DeLay and finish his term would “at this point be a circus because a special election is open to everyone. I don’t see the value to the Republican Party.”

Gillen said voters would be “better served by waiting until November and electing their candidate then.
You can see the dilemma for the GOP. Wait, it gets better. DeLay's opponent in the primary was Tom Campbell:

Campbell issued a press release calling on Gov. Perry to order a special election.

Republican Party executive committees in Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties each are expected to choose one precinct chairman to serve on a four-person committee that will be charged with nominating a candidate to replace DeLay on the November ballot.

However, Campbell said, the special election should be held first and Republican leaders should then select a nominee for the November election informed by the results of the special election.”

“Our party can send a strong message that it stands for open elections and integrity by choosing a nominee based upon the results of a special election,” Campbell said.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, interested but as yet unannounced as a candidate for DeLay’s November ballot spot, said his understanding is that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not obligated under the law to act to replace DeLay.

“I don’t know that there’s any reason to call a special election,” Eckels added.
As I say, having the people of District 22 represented is no reason at all, is it? And then, of course, there's that pesky U.S. Constitution. Art I, Sec. 2: "When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies." Not a lot of wiggle room there. A suit seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the governor to act would, it seems to me, succeed rather handily.

And yes, just yesterday, everyone expected this would proceed normally, and the seat would not be left vacant. DeLay had said he would resign by June. Already even the date is important, and when he will actually do it is becoming an issue. My own guess? Gov. Perry will avoid this controversy like the plague. He called special sessions of the Legislature (each one can only last 30 days) until they passed DeLay's redistricting plan (that's when several Democrats left the state to prevent it passing). He'll certainly stand as a tower of Jell-O on principle now. But he won't have a choice, and District 22 is not the solid GOP district the 30 people who showed up in Sugar Land today might think it is. This kind of naked power grab by the GOP is not going to sit well with the voters, and the more publicity Lampson gets about the GOP's interest in their own welfare, the better.

It's hard, really, to believe these people were ever able to organize a fire drill, much less take over the political power of the country. We'll just have to see what happens next, but my own expectation is that the courts and the voters will corral the more outrageous ambitions of the GOP. Finally.

Update: Supreme Irony of Life points out Gov. Perry has already decided not to call a special election. Let the lawsuits begin!

Further update: Well, more recent reports put a little flesh on the bones of the earlier report. The AP report (cited just above) said:

The Democratic candidate for the seat, former Rep. Nick Lampson, had called on the governor to set a May 13 special election so the district would be represented after DeLay leaves. Perry, Republican, refused without elaborating.
Now, apparently, he has elaborated:

Perry told reporters in Austin that if DeLay does not notify him by Friday that he has quit, "the election will be in November."

Democrat Nick Lampson, who is running for DeLay's seat, said in a raucous press conference on Thursday DeLay should resign immediately so a special election can be held at the earliest possible date -- May 13 in this case -- to choose his successor.

Under time requirements in Texas election laws, DeLay would have to quit by Friday to allow Perry to call for a May 13 vote.

An election could be held between May 13 and the November 7 vote if the governor, a Republican, wants it, but Perry's comment appeared to rule that out and raise the possibility the congressional seat could be empty for a while.

If the regular and special election are held on the same day, and there are two different winners, the winner of the special election would serve only until the winner of the regular election is sworn in January 2007.

DeLay said he was resigning because polls showed Lampson, a former congressman who lost his seat in a controversial redistricting pushed by DeLay, might beat him in the November election.

Lampson, speaking in front of the Sugar Land, Texas, city hall near Houston on Thursday, accused DeLay of putting off his resignation so there would be no quick special election and he would have time to "handpick his successor."

"Even in his resignation there is corruption," said Lampson while surrounded by two dozen DeLay supporters who shouted throughout his remarks while holding up signs calling him "Liberal Lampson."
I don't know the history of Art. I, Sec., 2, but the plain language seems to require that an election be held to fill the seat, not that it be delayed until the next regular election.

It will be interesting to see if Lampson or Campbell (or both) want to pay for the legal research on that issue.

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