Unknown court date puts former Rep. DeLay in limbo

While a federal appeals court considers whether former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) must stay on the ballot, the Texas secretary of state intends to file a brief with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking that it observe four crucial deadlines.

Under Texas election law, a candidate cannot be removed from the ballot with fewer than 74 days left before the election, a deadline that falls on Aug. 25 this year. Four days later, the candidate’s party must certify a replacement nominee. On Sept. 6, the secretary of state must certify the ballot. On Sept. 7, the secretary “strongly recommends that the ballot be sent to the printer,” said Scott Haywood, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

That gives Republicans a likely timeframe for a ruling from the appellate court.

Without a quick decision on the recent ruling that forces DeLay to stay on the ballot, Republicans would not have much time to introduce a new candidate to voters. And DeLay would be able to mount only a brief campaign against the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Nick Lampson, who in turn would get a lengthy period during which to boost his name identification and sell his candidacy in the district while running unopposed.

Facing the loss of a Republican seat, the Texas delegation is awaiting a ruling from the appeals court and does not have a strategy in response to either outcome, members said this week.

“We’re following it like the rest of the world,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).

Despite casual conversations among Texas Republicans, the delegation has not had an official meeting to discuss developments in DeLay’s former district. Members are expected to talk about it at length during lunch today.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and others said they are confident that the judges will realize the implications and rule on the appeal as quickly as possible.

“They understand the politics,” Carter said.

But prolonged litigation is possible because the parties have competing interests, a senior Republican lawyer said.

Replacement candidates could sue because they were excluded from the nominating process, voters could sue because their votes would be diluted by voting for a candidate who might not serve in Congress, the Texas Republican Party could sue to regain control of its nominating process, and the state of Texas could try to defend its election statutes in federal court.

“Ballot-access cases are always goofy and go back and forth,” the Republican lawyer said, adding that DeLay is “on the outside looking in. It’s not really about him.”

House Republican aides defended DeLay by noting that Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), who announced he would retire from Congress because of illness after winning the primary in March, was replaced on the ballot by candidate selected by party officials.

In New Jersey’s Senate race in 2002, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) resigned amid scandal 15 days after New Jersey state law allowed. The state Supreme Court allowed Democrats to print new ballots with Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s name, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal lodged by the GOP.

“You can’t read state law in a technical way to trump voters’ and parties’ choices,” the GOP lawyer said.

DeLay has adopted a wait-and-see approach.

“There’s not a huge benefit to DeLay by starting the campaign right now and having us shut it down in [a few] weeks,” a knowledgeable source said.

Meanwhile, he appears to be moving on with life as a private citizen. His wife, Christine, sent invitations last week for a reception at Citigroup’s offices to honor donors who helped fund Rio Bend, DeLay’s foundation that has built several homes for foster children.

“I would be honored if you would consider joining Tommy and I to give us the opportunity to express our deepest appreciation to those who have helped ‘build brighter futures for children,’” the invitation reads.

“P.S.: It is ‘truly’ a thank you event!”

After DeLay resigned from Congress in June and moved to Virginia, Democrats sued the Texas Republican Party, which had declared him ineligible to run. A federal district-court judge ruled last week that DeLay had to remain a candidate even though he moved from his home in Sugar Land, Texas.

At the urging of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay last year on charges of money laundering and conspiracy in a campaign-finance case; DeLay stepped down as majority leader in January and announced his resignation from Congress in April.

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