The Exterminator

Tom DeLay, the bug man from Sugar Land, has always despised environmental regulation. Now, as House majority whip, he's in a position to do something about it.


Though it's not a big environmental issue, one of DeLay's more interesting displays of advocacy came this summer, when he circulated a letter to House members urging support to reduce tariffs on the Mexican cement monopoly, Cemex. DeLay also wrote an unsolicited opinion piece for the Chronicle that called for relaxing the tariff. What the congressman neglected to mention in the piece is that his brother, Randy DeLay, is a registered foreign agent for Cemex in a joint venture with the Washington office of Fulbright and Jaworski.

DeLay has denied that his brother influenced him on the issue. Nothing surprising there; nobody should ever expect DeLay to back down from a fight. He seems to thrive on confrontation.

In his town meeting in Lake Jackson, he told the crowd that "the issue is not clean air or clean water. The problem with environmental extremists is that they want zero risk. They want water coming out of Dow Chemical that is cleaner than the water that they drew to use. It's true. Go down to the bayous down here. They have run people off from their drainage ditches, because the government won't let them fish in water that is cleaner and has more fish than the bay out there."

It is tempting to think about the implications of what DeLay is saying here. Does he mean that Dow should be allowed to discharge dirtier water? Or that fishing should be banned in Galveston Bay, which receives Dow's pristine water? Or merely that Dow ought to allow people to fish in its drainage ditches?

Still, if DeLay's only excesses were rhetorical, he might easily be dismissed as an ideologue. But he's far more powerful than his rhetoric. Fueled by money from big business and industry, he exploits a populist distrust of the federal agencies to push his agenda. DeLay has mastered the tools of power, and he makes no apologies for using the techniques of lobbying, fundraising and junket-hopping to forge a coalition to support his agenda.

Unlike his fervent freshman Republicans, DeLay has been reluctant to call a halt to gifts from lobbyists. When Newt Gingrich proposed a set of tough limits that prohibit members from taking free travel and meals to charity golf tournaments and other sports events, the House passed the restrictions by a vote of 422 to six. DeLay, who wasn't one of the six, was nonetheless quoted in the New York Times as saying during the debate, "We are beating ourselves on the head to prove that we are pure enough to deserve the public trust."

What DeLay doesn't seem to realize is that in building a political campaign on distrust of government, he must apply the same standards to his own behavior that he applies to that of others. If he attacks the science of his opponents, he can expect his science to come under scrutiny. If he accuses bureaucrats of pursuing special interests, his own special interests will be examined. If the media is said to exaggerate environmental problems, creating "eco-terrorism," what do we make of DeLay's own rhetoric, such as that used in Lake Jackson? "We can work together and have clean air and clear water," DeLay said at his town meeting, "... and I still think the EPA is a Gestapo organization."

Unquestionably, there's much that could be done to improve environmental regulations. But polls clearly show that the public is reluctant to jeopardize environmental protection. The nation has already experienced a period when environmental protection was left to the common sense and goodwill of industry, and it got toxic waste dumps and the loss of half of the country's wetlands as a result.

Tom DeLay may have never met a regulation he liked, as he once admitted to the Wall Street Journal, but he's living in an increasingly complex world that often requires rules. And as the majority whip, he has a tremendous ability to change those rules. Comfortably ensconced in a spacious office near the floor of the House, and well financed by big business, DeLay may not have to worry too much any more about what he says. Though he's now stymied by the presidential veto and a few "greenie" Republicans who make overriding the veto difficult, if a Republican is elected president, DeLay may not have to worry about a presidential roadblock. He'll have more than just the bully pulpit then. He'll have what he's been working for over the last 16 years: the votes.

BUGGY BUSINESS

Last November, just a few days after he had won election to a sixth term as congressman for the 22nd District, Tom DeLay called a meeting of the Fort Bend County Republican leadership.

"When I asked what it was all about," recalled one person who attended, "I was told that I would see when I got there. That made it mysterious, which made you want to go all the more."

About 25 to 30 people showed up at DeLay's district headquarters in Stafford, expecting either an election celebration or a discussion of political strategy. What they got was something far different.

With the help of an aide running a VCR, DeLay spent almost three-quarters of an hour taking his fellow Republicans through the videotaped deposition of Robert Blankenship, a man who had once owned a third of Delay's exterminating business, Albo Pest Control Inc. In January of last year, Blankenship had sued DeLay and another business associate, Darrell Hutto, over the proposed sale of Albo. Blankenship's claims included, among other things, the charge that DeLay had taken $150,000 in loans from Albo without paying them back. DeLay countersued, alleging that Blankenship had used company equipment and chemicals for his personal benefit and had diverted money from customers.

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