Fearing the loss of his once-powerful seat in Congress to a Democrat in what was shaping up to be a tight race, Texas Republican Representative Tom DeLay announced Tuesday morning that he will resign from the House and drop his re-election bid.
"I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative personal campaign," DeLay said in a video announcement released Tuesday (April 4) to his constituents, according to CNN. "After many weeks of personal, prayerful thinking and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to close this public service chapter of my life. ... It's time to begin opening new chapters and pursuing new opportunities to engage in the important cultural and political battles of our day from outside the arena of the United States House of Representatives."
DeLay, 58, known as "the Hammer" for his ability to hit back at political foes and push through legislation, was elected to the House in 1984 and rose to the post of House majority leader in 2002. Last September, he was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in Austin, Texas, on criminal charges of conspiracy to violate election laws (see "Republican Representative Tom DeLay Indicted, Exits Majority Leader Post"). DeLay was charged with improperly steering corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002. He has denied any wrongdoing and in his statement vowed that he had "no fear whatsoever" of any investigation into his personal or professional activities.
Though he handily won the Republican primary on March 7 in his district, pulling in 62 percent of the vote, DeLay decided last week to drop his re-election bid. He was facing Democrat Nick Lampson, a former representative who lost his seat in a nearby district after DeLay and his allies helped push through a controversial redistricting program in the Texas legislature that made Lampson's district more Republican.
Facing both the criminal charges and the political fallout from his close relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, DeLay said he's bowing out because he wants the campaign in his Houston-area district to focus on issues that matter to his constituents, not "a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me," according to CNN. "My love for the Republican Party has played no small part in this decision." Though DeLay has not been tied to any wrongdoing in the Abramoff investigation, two of his former staffers have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
DeLay said he has no regrets and is proud of his legacy and looks forward to his next move, which will find him switching his official residence from Texas to Virginia in order to make him ineligible to run in the upcoming midterm elections and let the Republican Party find a new candidate. His official resignation is expected to come sometime in June, paving the way for a special election to fill the remaining months of his term.
Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said DeLay's resignation is a sign that the Republican Party is in trouble. "Tom DeLay's decision to leave Congress is just the latest piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a party in disarray, a party out of ideas and out of energy," according to an Associated Press report.
DeLay is facing trial in Texas on money-laundering charges for his alleged part in a scheme to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations from a political action committee he created to Texas GOP legislative candidates in 2002.
Prosecutors have charged that the transfers were meant to get around a Texas law banning corporate donations to political campaigns. DeLay's attorneys argue that they were legal and even if they weren't, DeLay was not directly involved in making the transactions. DeLay has alleged that Ronnie Earle, the Democrat District Attorney who brought the charge, is on a political witch hunt.