Nightmare in Texas' 22nd District

“This is the nightmare scenario,” warned former Harris County (Houston) Republican Chairman Gary Polland, describing recent developments in the succession to just-resigned Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.). Two weeks ago, when giving up the 22nd District seat he has held for 22 years, DeLay cited the fact that he is now a resident of Northern Virginia. A change of residence to another state is the only reason beside death that a candidate on the Lone Star State ballot can be replaced, so the GOP thought a new candidate could now be named.

But Texas Democrats and the courts in Austin had other ideas. As the Republican chairmen in the four counties in the 22nd District were preparing to begin the process of selecting a replacement, Democrats secured a temporary restraining order June 11 to stop the GOP for at least two weeks. The lawyers for the Democratic Party, Chad Dunn of Houston and Cris Feldman of Austin, made the case before State District Judge Darlene Byrne of Austin that DeLay still has a Texas homestead exemption and is registered to vote, and has a driver’s license in Texas. Byrne agreed he was a Texan.

“They are especially fond of those courthouses around Austin,” remarked State Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser, referring to the leftist leanings in the capital city. Benkiser told reporters that DeLay had presented her with sufficient enough proof that he had moved: a Virginia driver’s license and voter registration card, and other Virginia documents.

Benkiser and the state GOP then took their case to federal court, but just last week, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks (a Bush appointee) asked questions that led observers to think he would uphold Byrne’s ruling. Only if Byrne is overruled will the four county chairmen be permitted to call a meeting of their individual precinct chairmen. Under party rules, the precinct chairmen will elect a representative from each county, who will choose the new Republican nominee to face Democrat Nick Lampson, a former four-term House member from a neighboring district.

So far, nine Republicans are vying for the nomination, with the leading contenders being State Representatives Charlie Howard of Sugar Land and Robert Talton of Pasadena, State Sen. Mike Jackson of La Porte, Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace. Steve Stockman, a former Republican House member from a neighboring district, had tried to qualify as an independent candidate on the grounds he was an “insurance policy” for the GOP if DeLay was unable to get off the ballot. But the secretary of state ruled last week that Stockman had not submitted the required 500 valid signatures and would not be on the ballot.

Polland noted that “the longer it takes the courts to let Republicans finally select a nominee, the harder it will be for us to overtake Lampson. We could be looking at a seven-week campaign. And even if we win it, I don’t doubt for a minute that Democrats will try to deny a Republican congressman his seat—as they did in Indiana’s 8th District in 1984, when a Republican with a certificate of election was replaced with the Democrat he defeated.”

On Gard in Wisconsin 8th

Wisconsin conservatives were cheered last fall when the speaker of the state House of Representatives, John Gard, announced at his family’s dairy farm in Lena his plan to run for the 8th District U.S. House seat. With the endorsement of current Congressman (and certain GOP candidate for governor) Mark Green, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the 43-year-old Gard appears headed for victory.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Gard has served in the state legislature since winning his seat in a special election in 1987 and has maintained a conservative track record. As speaker, he has fought for tax cuts and for the elimination of wasteful government spending. Gard, for example, voted to cut both income and property taxes by more than $1 billion and helped secure the largest property-tax cut in the Wisconsin history. He also voted to eradicate the state tax on Social Security benefits, a move that now saves taxpayers more than $80 million a year. “The government needs to learn how to do more with less, and I am committed to holding the line on spending,” Gard told Human Events correspondent Laura Evans during a recent visit to Washington.

Gard also pulled no punches with Evans when he addressed the need to secure our nation’s borders. He said that we need to demonstrate through our actions that “the law must be followed and make illegal trespassers understand that the law will be enforced.” Like many GOP candidates this year, Gard has broken with the President over his proposed guest-worker program.

The speaker has the endorsement of Wisconsin Right to Life for his campaign and describes himself as “strongly pro-life.”

In the September 12 primary election, Gard will face off against moderate state legislator Terri McCormick for the GOP nomination. But, thanks to the fact that state Republican House members and party officials have signed off on Gard, the speaker has the pre-primary backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The leading Democratic candidates are now former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum and wealthy physician Steve Kagen.

While the Appleton-Green Bay district is somewhat conservative, the low poll ratings for the Bush Administration and likelihood a heavyweight contender will carry the Democratic standard mean that this is one more district Republicans can’t take for granted in the fall.