July 6, 2006, 11:54AM
Judge's ruling keeps DeLay on ballot
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN - A federal judge ruled today that Republicans
cannot replace former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on the
ballot for the 22nd Congressional District race.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, a Republican
appointee, ruled that DeLay must appear on the Nov. 7
ballot as the GOP nominee for the congressional seat
that he abandoned last month.
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Sparks said DeLay could "withdraw'' from the race
under Texas election law, but that still would not
allow the Republicans to replace him on the ballot.
DeLay had sought to have state Republican Chair Tina
Benkiser declare him ineligible by moving from Sugar
Land to his condominium in Virginia. But Sparks said
that would not make him ineligible because the
requirement under the Constitution is whether DeLay is
an inhabitant of Texas on election day.
Sparks said contradicting evidence raised questions
about whether DeLay planned to remain a resident of
Virginia, but he said that did not matter because
DeLay could not say where he would be on election day.
"The court holds that allowing Benkiser to declare
DeLay ineligible at this time would amount to a de
facto residency requirement in violation of the United
States Constitution,'' Sparks said in his opinion.
Sparks' ruling halts the process of replacing DeLay on
the ballot, but the GOP is expected to appeal the
decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
If the Republicans lose on appeal, DeLay will have to
decide whether to campaign for an office from which he
already has resigned.
When he announced his resignation, DeLay said he
believed he could win re-election but thought he would
be a drag on other Republican candidates for office
because Democrats would use him as a lightening rod to
raise money and attack the GOP in general. So he
resigned and dropped his re-election bid.
Precinct chairs in the four counties of the 22nd
District already have started the process of selecting
a new nominee.
Republicans who have been vying for the seat are Sugar
Land lawyer Tom Campbell; state Reps. Charlie Howard
or Sugar Land and Robert Talton of Pasadena; state
Sen. Mike Jackson of Houston; Houston City
Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs; Fort Bend County
Commissioner Andy Meyers; Sugar Land Mayor David
Wallace; retired Air Force Maj. Don Richardson; and
former state GOP executive committee member Tim
The Democratic nominee is former U.S. Rep. Nick
Lampson of Houston. The Libertarian Party is
represented by Bob Smither of Friendswood.
DeLay already had won the Republican nomination for
re-election to his district when he resigned from the
U.S. House on June 9. Benkiser declared DeLay
ineligible because he had become a resident of
Virginia, and she started the process of replacing
DeLay on the ballot.
The Texas Democratic Party sued, claiming Benkiser had
no authority to declare DeLay ineligible.
The Democrats said DeLay's eligibility is determined
by the U.S. Constitution as to which state DeLay is an
inhabitant of on election day, Nov. 7. They said DeLay
also could not withdraw from the race because state
law does not allow a party's nominee to withdraw when
another political party also has a nominee.
Republicans argued that Benkiser could declare DeLay
ineligible because the Constitution allows the states
to control the manner and means of the election. They
said that by changing his official residence to
Virginia, DeLay had made himself ineligible for the
Texas office, even though he still maintained a home
in Sugar Land.
DeLay last year had to give up his position as House
majority leader after being indicted in Austin on
campaign-finance related charges. DeLay said that
investigation was politically motivated by Democratic
District Attorney Ronnie Earle.
DeLay became a focus of national news reports in the
wake of the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal.
DeLay has maintained his innocence, but two of his
former aides have pleaded guilty to federal charges.