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Grand Old Parting of the Ways

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Those fratricidal Republicans are at it again. Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning News finally got state GOP executive director Jeff Fisher to acknowledge what everybody knew, which was that a 2005 telephone poll to determine the level of support of several “moderate” (that is, conservative, as opposed to very very very conservative, like Christian Coalition alum Fisher) Republican legislators had been paid for by the state party. Since the legislators had not asked for the poll, nor had they been told about it, they concluded that Fisher was probing their vulnerability in last March’s primary election, with a view toward defeating them with more conservative candidates. (The poll also included a question regarding support for Proposition 2, the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.)

Now another GOP activist has launched an attack on his own party. Back in June, Bobby Eberle sought to become part of the state leadership by running for vice-chairman, the number-two position behind chairman Tina Benkiser, only to be defeated by Dr. Robin Armstrong at the Republican state convention. Yesterday, writing in his Internet newsletter, GOPUSA, under the headline, “DeLay Seat Turns into Fiasco,” Eberle criticized the leadership he had wanted to join: “The congressional seat of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay is now in jeopardy thanks in part to a failure in leadership from party officials.”

Eberle went on to cite former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland’s “Texas Conservative Review” approvingly:

“*[Republican Party of Texas] Chairman [Tina] Benkiser did not adequately prepare for or document DeLay’s change of residency when she removed his name. This was a chance where a little extra effort could have paid off. Instead it hurt them later when trying to prove DeLay’s ineligibility.”

*”RPT did not have their case together. In trial, the RPT’s arguments and witnesses came across as under-prepared. They made crucial mistakes that also limited their ability to make a stronger case on appeal.”

*”Moving to Federal Court was a monster mistake. RPT assumed that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals would rule in our favor simply because they’re perceived as a Republican C0urt. Instead, the RPT simply invited the federal government to intervene on a matter of state law. Not only was this a foolish move–it was decidedly not conservative. Conservatives reflect our system of federalism and therights and laws of the states. RPT neglected principles for perceived convenience, and it backfired.”

These observations are a bunch of self-serving, second-guessing hooey. I was in court for Benkiser’s and DeLay’s testimony, and they had plenty of documentation. They had a letter from DeLay stating his intention to change his residency to an Alexandria, Virginia, address; a Virginia voter registration card; a Virginia driver’s license; a Virginia hunting and fishing license; and a Virginia state tax withholding statement. Polland/Eberle missed the whole point of the case. The documentation was irrelevant. DeLay’s intention was irrelevant. All that mattered, under the U.S. Constitution, was where his residence would be on election day–and, as DeLay himself admitted in court, no one could know for sure.

The second point, that RPT’s witnesses came across as unprepared, is likewise misleading. Yes, DeLay could have answered the question about where his residence might be on election day in a more forceful manner: “I am totally committed to being a resident of Virginia and have no intention of returning to Texas.” But it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that he might be residing in Texas–where he and his wife still have a home and where he was served with notice of the Democrats’ lawsuit–on election day.

As for the Republicans’ decision to seek removal of the case to federal court, here was Benkiser’s explanation at the time: “If Democrat plaintiff trial lawyers want to raise federal issues under the U.S. Constitution, they cannot then seek to have them decided in the liberal state court of their choice.” From a Republican point of view, that argument sounds mighty persuasive. If the Republicans had chosen to remain in the state court system, in the hope of winning a favorable ruling from the Republican-dominated appellate courts, the Democrats would have had the option of removing the case to federal court.

The whole idea of blaming Benkiser and RPT’s lawyers for the situation in District 22–a write-in campaign against Democrat Nick Lampson–misses the targets. If Eberle had had the courage to tell it like it is, he would have written (as I have posted previously) that two people, and only two people, could have avoided this situation. One is Rick Perry, who could have called a special election to see who would succeed DeLay. The risk was that the Republican vote would have been divided and Lampson, as presumably the only Democrat in the race, would have led going into a runoff against the leading Republican vote-getter. But, given time to raise funds (and the governor sets the date of the election), the Republican would have had a decent chance to win. The other person, of course, is DeLay. When he lost the lawsuit to remove his name from the ballot, he could have made a race of it, and a lot of folks think he had a good chance to win. It was DeLay who effectively conceded the seat to Democrats by withdrawing after losing in the courts. Not Benkiser.

Eberle sounds like a man who still has his eye on moving up in the Republican ranks: “The DeLay congressional seat fiasco should be a wake-up call to everyone that leadership matters,” he wrote in the conclusion to his article. Yes, leadership does matter. And perhaps that is why the delegates to the GOP convention rejected Eberle’s candidacy for vice-chairman by a decisive margin. Remember Jeff Gannon, who pitched softball questions to President George W. Bush at press conferences? Remember that the Washington Post later reported that a Web designer in California had designed a gay escort site for Gannon and had posted naked pictures of Gannon at the client’s request? Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, worked for a now-defunct (for obvious reasons) Web site called Talon News. And the person who ran Talon News and who hired Jeff Gannon/James Guckert was none other than Bobby Eberle.

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