Those expecting spangles or jazz hands were disappointed on Saturday morning at South Texas College of Law. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was at the podium as the keynote speaker for the 29th Annual Law and Media Seminar ready to talk about his trials and travails dealing with the Grand Jury system, but he was dressed like a politician, down to the American flag pin, and not like a ballroom dancer.
Still, it seems that DeLay learned a little something about showmanship from his stint on Dancing With the Stars. His performance on Saturday had everything -- jabs at the media, diatribes against the judicial system and cracks about how much the "People's Republic of Travis County" hates him -- except a light merengue backbeat.
DeLay took the stage, so to speak, and immediately made it clear he was a little less than thrilled to find himself addressing an audience that included the media. "I didn't know the press was going to be here, so I'm going to have to watch my words," he said. (Yep, that's right. Somehow DeLay apparently missed that he'd have to be talking to both lawyers and journalists at the event, despite the spoiler-ish title.) But after that grumble, DeLay got down to the real business of the morning: Walking through his protracted legal battle and explaining why the whole thing was just a political hatchet job while establishing his complete innocence.
For those with short memories, DeLay worked with Newt Gingrich back in the 1990s to orchestrate the Republican Revolution and have the GOP seize congressional power. DeLay was the guy who got things done, as far as gathering up the campaign money and figuring out how to get it to the proper Republicans (aka the ones who agreed with DeLay's hardline GOP approach to things.)
He continued to rise through the ranks, and he was elected House Majority Leader in 2003. But right as DeLay was enjoying being one of the top dog politicians in Washington D.C. he was indicted back in Travis County on charges of money laundering related to his efforts to redraw congressional district lines in Texas. (DeLay maintained on Saturday that the fact that the lines had been redrawn and then Republicans were elected to seats formerly held by Democrats after that whole redistricting thing was just because the country, and not the district lines, had changed. "It was just a money swap," he told the crowd.)
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Ronnie Earle, then the Travis County District Attorney and a Democrat, sought to indict DeLay on charges related to money laundering and conspiracy charges related to illegal campaign finance activities in 2005. After three grand jury hearings, DeLay was indicted and by the following year he was forced to resign from his office. Then he was eventually convicted on both counts of money laundering and conspiracy and sentenced to three years in prison.
A state appeals court overturned DeLay's conviction in 2013, but by then the former House Majority Leader had been financially wiped out and had lost every bit of his political clout. From there his stint on Dancing With the Stars must have looked like a cakewalk, as well as a good way to get people to stop thinking of money laundering when they think of DeLay. (If that was his intention, it has worked. DeLay told the audience that he gets recognized as the Dancing with the Stars guy when he's walking through airports more than he ever gets recognized for having been a politician these days.)
DeLay's talk wrapped up with questions from the audience. When someone asked if he had any advice for Rick Perry as the former governor now contends with his very own personal indictment, DeLay said he and Perry haven't talked recently. "It's probably to give plausible deniability," DeLay said, laughing. But he told the audience he knows from personal experience what happens to indicted politicians when they are still trying to play the game of politics. DeLay thinks that Perry is going to have a hard time.
"He claims this has no effect on the politics but let me tell you it had a lot of effect on my politics," he said. "People don't want to talk to you, people don't want to be seen with you, donors certainly don't want to give you money with this hanging over your head."