TOM DELAY HAS A RARE GIFT for planning ahead, for being able to conceive a chessboard and a sequence of moves that sprawls across years. Then the majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Sugar Land Republican decided he was going to get more GOP congressmen from Texas as soon as the Supreme Court put the 2000 national election out of its misery in Florida, and he may have been plotting his strategy even before that.
Elsewhere, George W. Bush might have been a minority president starting out his term, but at home he was arguably the most popular politician since Sam Houston. Republicans held every statewide office in Texas, and they had a majority in the state Senate. But in the 2000 elections, they had been turned back once more in their attempt to take over the House. The Speaker, Pete Laney, was a quiet and well-liked Democrat from Hale Center who had gotten along with Bush when he was governor and in quantum ways had made Bush’s life and work easier. Laney had been asked to introduce Bush to the nation in the Texas Capitol and vouch for him when the Supreme Court handed him his fiercely disputed presidency.
A few months after the election, DeLay was back in his old statehouse haunts, according to the Washington Post, driving around Austin with Jim Ellis, his top political aide. It was then that he and Ellis came up with a daring plan: Target a few linchpin races in 2002 where Republican victories would enable the party to break the Democrats’ lock on the Texas House of Representatives, help recruit the strongest possible candidates, and pour in money and assistance just as his national political-action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority ( ARMPAC), had done in so many congressional races in 2000. The Legislature would push through a redistricting plan that would allow gerrymandering arithmetic to accomplish what the Republicans weren’t getting done at the polls, and soon the Texas congressional delegation would include a rightful commanding majority of Republicans (who would, among other virtues, leap to