The hammer drops on The Hammer | NevadaAppeal.com
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The hammer drops on The Hammer

Kirk Caraway
Nevada Appeal Internet Editor

Whatever happens to Tom DeLay from this point on, history will remember him as a political warrior, unrivaled in his time.

His announcement that he is leaving Congress was seen as an end to the saga of the former House majority leader, though there seems to be at least a couple of chapters left to be written about the man they call The Hammer.

Say what you will about him, but DeLay redefined the concept of power politics in this country. His tireless efforts to create a permanent Republican majority helped his party attain more power than at any time in history, and the effects will be felt for generations to come.

Though I can differ with his politics, I can’t help but admire someone so committed to a cause. He was on a mission, and he didn’t let anything stand in his way.

Of course, along the way he ran over a lot of people, ethics rules and perhaps a few laws as well.

DeLay is the latest from a line of Texans who have fought their way to the top of the Washington heap, only to find themselves cast off for reaching too high.

There must be something in the water down in the Lone Star State that infects its politicians with a special kind of megalomania. Before DeLay, we had House Speaker Jim Wright, and Lyndon Johnson before him. George W. Bush and Karl Rove could be headed to join this group as well.

DeLay’s iron-fisted control of the House of Representatives is legendary. He squeezed out votes that no other party leader could, and he kept his troops in lockstep behind the official party line. Compromise was not a word listed in his dictionary. He used political disagreements as wedges, creating the most partisan Congress in modern times.

His quest also led him afoul of House ethics rules. But in true DeLay fashion, after being admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee, he purged those committee members who voted against him.

And his power wasn’t limited to Capitol Hill. His audacious plan to gerrymander congressional districts in Texas in mid-decade changed the political landscape of electoral politics.

DeLay’s power came from money. He knew how to raise huge sums of cash, and he generously spread it around to his allies.

It’s also at the root of why he ended up quitting.

It was the money that led to the K Street Project, an effort to get lobbying firms to hire only Republicans. Employing the same kind of hardball techniques he used to keep his caucus in line, DeLay conquered K Street, enlarging the money pipeline between the GOP and special interests.

But success had its price.

Like others with an appetite for power, DeLay sometimes forgot what he wanted the power for in the first place.

His remark about there being no fat in the budget even managed to alienate conservatives who saw the excesses of pet projects for lawmakers. But to DeLay, these earmarks aren’t fat. Every “bridge to nowhere” project served an important political purpose, to pay off legislators by funneling pork to their districts and their friends. It was using the people’s money to consolidate DeLay’s power, because after all, what was good for The Hammer was good for the country.

And this is where the DeLay train derailed.

DeLay needed total political control because a good number of the policies he was pushing had little support among the voters. In order to get them passed, he needed all the power centers working with him. And it worked, for a while.

What DeLay and other partisan warriors on both sides fail to see is that they represent not just the narrow views of their party, but all the people in their districts and states. They represent all of us. That means they need to work together and find compromises that bring together all sides, be they Republican, Democrat or independent.

It’s my hope that history records the DeLay era as a period when we learned that divisiveness is not a formula for success, that working together makes us a better, stronger country.

• Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at kcaraway@nevadaappeal.com, or comment online at nevadaappeal.com.