By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
The onset of the holiday season always brings a rush of warm feelings, of giving thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed on us all year.
For some people, at least. For us it brings on an end-of-the-year accounting of all the things that have tripped our trigger, made our eyes roll or just annoyed the living hell out of us. Thanksgiving is a time for turkeys, so here are the Turkeys who have been gobbling madly around us in Houston this year.
Texas has had six flags flying over it, as every amusement-park attendee knows. The flags include those of France, Spain, the Confederate States of America and our very own Republic of Texas.
Now it flies under a seventh. As 2003 has proved, we are now living in a country named -- like Afghanistan or Uzbekistan -- after the most influential part of the population. Like Turkmenistan, this new country is ruled by a powerful warlord. (The CIA World Factbook says Turkmenistan's president "retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated.")
Welcome, then, to DeLayistan -- where absolute control is retained and opposition is not tolerated.
DeLayistan's flag honors both the hardball nickname and former bug-exterminating career of its potentate, Tom DeLay: It features a hammer smashing a roach. In a nod to the wacky religious extremism that led DeLay to denounce Baylor University as unacceptably liberal because it didn't dismiss out-of-hand the whole evolution thing, the flag's hammer resembles a cross. (Oh, and the roach is wearing a Democratic National Committee T-shirt. Sure, it's kind of a busy design for a flag, but DeLay's an ayatollah, not a graphic design artist.)
In forming this new country, in ridding Texas of its nasty decades-long habit of democracy, Tom DeLay of Sugar Land has earned the coveted title of the Houston Press Turkey of the Year.
Life in DeLayistan can take some adjusting for those who are used to the free and easy ways of countries like, say, America.
Texans are not alone in coming under the DeLay thumb, of course. Residents of Florida still shudder in horror at the memory of the Semi-Well-Behaved White-Collar Hordes DeLay bused down to county election offices in the wake of the 2000 presidential vote, demonstrating for George W. Bush and the right to think Ann Coulter makes sense. Residents of California have had their own foreign puppet installed.
Here in what used to be known as Texas, DeLay snapped his fingers and his minions obeyed -- holding not one, not two, but three special sessions to push through a redistricting plan that nobody but Tom DeLay wanted. (For what it's worth, the plan previously in place had been supported by the GOP over Democratic objections.)
When even the Republicans couldn't agree, DeLay came in and "mediated" a solution -- while the governor was out of state. Reports that the "negotiations" consisted entirely of legislators asking, "How far would you like me to take it up the ass, Mr. DeLay?" are quite possibly an exaggeration.
"He wielded enormous influence and he was very persistent and stayed with it through to the end," one lobbyist says, wanting anonymity even while stating what was obvious to pretty much everyone in Austin.
So get used to life in DeLayistan. Border checkpoints will ensure each arriving car has a Bible, a concealed weapon and a "Rush Is Right" bumper sticker.
You know, we tried to get someone to say something good about DeLay. When the Young Conservatives of Texas e-mailed to let us know they were opposing the rail referendum, we tried in vain to contact their chairman, just to see what the kids think is "groovy" about Tom. We called the state Republican Party and its new chairwoman. No dice.
So we're left with Harris County Democratic chairman Gerry Birnberg. "No one has done more to inspire Democrats, to bring them together, and with passion, than Tom DeLay," he says. "He gets Democrats charged up."
Charged-up Texas Democrats. Somehow we don't see Tom's disciples shaking in their boots over this development in the great halls of DeLayistan.
Runner-up Turkey of the Year
Union members -- and yes, there are some in Houston -- know what it's like to go out on strike: "It causes dismay and consternation and it is tough to go through," says E. Dale Wortham, president of the Harris County AFL-CIO.
So when 11 Democrats from the state Senate camped out in Oklahoma, and then New Mexico, in order to stop Czar DeLay's redistricting scheme, the unions quickly showed their support.
The steelworkers union gave $25,000 to the state Democratic Party. And at one union meeting, members literally passed the hat and forked over from their own pockets $631 to send to the holdouts in Albuquerque.
So imagine Wortham's surprise when, as he puts it, "All of a sudden I look up and see John Whitmire at the airport on the TV."
State Senator John Whitmire of Houston -- soon to become known as John Quitmire -- incurred the wrath of rank-and-file Democrats across the country when he decided to sneak out of New Mexico on September 2 and give the Republicans the quorum they needed to pass DeLay's bill.