Q&A: Tom DeLay Explains His Decision

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TIME: Could you talk about the period of time over which you considered this decision?

DeLay: I don't know that you can put it in a period of time. I've been fighting this strategy of personal destruction for going on 10 years. I'm not whining. The Democrats even publicly announced that they were going to destroy my reputation and an effort to do that. So I guess when I got indicted in September—I'm a realist, and I know politics. I have been fighting this effort for a long time, and we were continuing to fight it. We knew that the indictments were frivolous. Being indicted under laws that don't exist is frivolous. But we thought that we could get to court in December. Obviously, [Travis County, Tex., District Attorney]Ronnie Earle's strategy is to drag it out past the November election. That's QUITE obvious now. You live it day by day and you fight it day by day. It didn't work out. The Abramoff stuff hit with [former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff's pleading guilty in January. It was obvious—more obvious than that, and not because of that, the [House] leadership had to be in place before we started this year. So I stepped down as Majority Leader [as required under caucus rules when a leader is indicted] because I wanted to make sure they had a leadership. While that's going on, I'm in the middle of a primary. We won the primary. We took another look—

Christine DeLay: Sixty-two percent!

DeLay: We took another look at the general election, and then it became quite evident that I had to start seriously focusing on what the future should be, and what it was going to be. I think I was really focused on whether to retire or not right after the primary.

TIME: I understand you got a poll recently that had pretty tough news.

DeLay: We had just run a primary. We had a poll coming out in December that showed we were in decent shape but the district was quite polarized. There was very small undecided. And fortunately there were more supporting me than against me. But my support was incredibly strong. My opposition was also incredibly strong.

Christine DeLay: Yeah, but not for the man.

DeLay: Against me.

Christine DeLay: Against Tom.

DeLay: Exactly. (Both DeLays chuckle.) I had more for me than against me. We did a poll right after the primary and it hadn't changed very much. The trends were still very tight and very close. I had a little bit better than a 50-50 chance of winning reelection. I had a great campaign manager that had done—actually, if you look at what we had done in the primary, we had a record turnout here. Why? Because we—Chris Homan and my campaign staff— had identified more pro-Tom DeLay voters than the parties had projected the vote. And so we turned those vote and therefore helped the turnout. We could have done that again.

TIME: It was around 50-50, so you might have lost.

DeLay: Could have. There's no reason to risk a seat. This is a very strong Republican district. It's obvious to me that anybody but me running here will overwhelmingly win the seat. This had become a referendum on me. So it's better for me to step aside and let it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what's important for this district.

TIME: Is the candidate likely to be one of the other three Republicans from the primary?

DeLay: No. (Smiles)

TIME: Who's the candidate likely to be?

DeLay: We've got some really great elected officials here—state reps, state senators, local and county judges. We've got plenty to choose from, and we don't have to choose from my primary opponents?

TIME: Do you know who it will be?

DeLay: I'm not going to play kingmaker. I'll let the party—it's a party process. And the party ought to make the decision.

TIME: Mrs. DeLay, how do you feel about this decision?

Christine DeLay: I think it's the right decision. But I was ready to fight, too. I told him: I'm 100 percent behind you, either way. I had lots of reasons he could have gone either way. I'm tickled plumb to death.

TIME: And why is that?

Christine DeLay: Well, maybe we'll see each other now and then.

DeLay: The other thing I want to work on is to help Christine in her vision for foster care, foster kids. [Oaks at] Rio Bend [a residence for foster children planned by a DeLay-controlled charity] is not completed yet. We want to complete it, and hopefully it will be a model we can take around the country—around the state and around the country—to show that government can't raise children, that people raise children and we have a way of giving foster children, abused and neglected children a safe, permanent home.

Christine DeLay: Whether you say this or not, I just want to you to know: We need more press on Rio Bend—the idea; not Tom DeLay. We didn't name it, "Tom and Christine's Little Home for Children." It's "Rio Bend," just like a regular place. [Cites news organization that she said taped at the site for hours, without major stories] You haven't seen THAT, have you?

DeLay: (referring to a newspaper article in preparation) That ain't gonna run. (Chuckles)

Christine DeLay: It ain't gonna run. And, see, it doesn't—it's about kids.

DeLay: It's not about us.

Christine DeLay: But they're scared to death it might make that Tom DeLay look like he could be part human.

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