Ex-GOP Rep. Stockman Seeks DeLay Seat

Nervous that the ongoing web of scandal surrounding disgraced Washington “superlobbyist” Jack Abramoff will cost Republicans enough seats to lose control of the House and convinced that Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) might well lose his Houston-area district to a Democrat, former one-term Rep. Steve Stockman has decided to run for the seat as an independent.

The surprise announcement by conservative stalwart Stockman, who represented about one-third of what is now the 22nd District from 1994-96, was coupled by the decision of the former lawmaker to run for Congress as an independent.

“I’m not here to ensure a loss but to make sure that Nick Lampson is not elected,” explained Stockman, referring to the Democrat who unseated him in 1996 and is now the likely Democratic opponent to embattled former Majority Leader DeLay.

In an exclusive interview, Stockman emphasized the unique view that, in running as an independent rather than challenging DeLay in the Republican primary March 7, he would be free to attack old nemesis Lampson “like a pit bull.”

Under indictment in Austin by arch-enemy and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for alleged violations of state campaign finance laws and relinquishing his post as the No. 2 leader in the House GOP hierarchy under party rules, the 58-year-old DeLay is mentioned in almost every national media story about Abramoff and Abramoff’s decision to cooperate with federal prosecutors probing his dealings with members of Congress.

Although no indictments of anyone have yet to come down since Abramoff’s plea-bargain was announced last week, DeLay’s past association with the lobbyist is being mentioned in the national media. “Good Morning America,” for example, showed a film clip of DeLay’s visit several years ago to South Pacific islands represented by Abramoff’s firm.

Voicing his friendship for his former colleague, Stockman nonetheless expressed his concern that “this Abramoff thing is hurting the party and we could lose Tom’s seat.”

With DeLay voluntarily relinquishing securely Republican portions of his district in the redistricting process that permitted the GOP to make major gains in the House from Texas in ’04, Stockman observed, “He won re-election last time with only 54% of the vote while George Bush was carrying the 22nd by better than two-to-one.”

Given the negative publicity now surrounding DeLay and the efforts of Houston-area Democrats to register displaced Katrina victims as voters, some pundits believe the 11-term GOP lawmaker could easily be in for a seriously competitive race of his life against Lampson (who served in the House in a neighboring district from 1996 until unseated by Republican Ted Poe in ’04).

As to how running as an independent helps DeLay, Stockman told me that he would be free to keep attacking Lampson for his own “ethical lapses” while in local office before he came to Congress. “And that’s something Tom can’t do under the present circumstances,” he added.

Other area Republicans have said that should DeLay abandon his re-election campaign in favor of another conservative Republican — most likely Harris County (Houston) Judge Rob Echols. Stockman would almost certainly drop out of the race in favor of the new GOP candidate.

Stockman also said he tried to reach DeLay to discuss his strategy before announcing it, “but he never returned my call.”

Accountant Stockman made national headlines in 1994 by unseating then-House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks (D.). Under state election law, Stockman must get 500 signatures from voters who don’t participate in either the Democratic or Republican primaries for Congress. So far, another independent is trying to get on the 22nd District ballot and two Libertarians are vying for their party’s nomination.