Sweet column: DeLay departs Congress; remains a factor in Roskam-Duckworth 6th CD race.

SHARE Sweet column: DeLay departs Congress; remains a factor in Roskam-Duckworth 6th CD race.
SHARE Sweet column: DeLay departs Congress; remains a factor in Roskam-Duckworth 6th CD race.

Tom DeLay said Tuesday he is quitting Congress because he does not want Republicans to lose House seats in November because of him.

But it may be too late for DeLay, the Texas Republican who is leaving with ethical clouds swirling around him, to take himself out of play as a factor.

today’s column

Democrats at a national level and locally — Dem House candidate Tammy Duckworth, running against state Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton), who once worked for DeLay — will continue to demonize DeLay.

“DeLay may be gone, but nothing has changed,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the chief of the House political operation, in a statement.

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Last year Emanuel and other Democratic leaders used DeLay’s ethical problems to shape what became a drumbeat Democratic “culture of corruption” battle cry against Republicans.

“If there were a Mount Rushmore of ethical scandals,” said Duckworth spokesman Billy Weinberg, “Tom DeLay’s face would be carved on it — and it would be just as permanent.”

The top Republican House leaders provided a united front on Tuesday, praising DeLay’s tenure and his decision to step down.

Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “I think he understood that it was becoming a referendum on him instead of on the ideas between the two parties and I think he did an honorable thing by stepping aside.”

DeLay recognized that he could lose his suburban Houston seat in the wake of the swelling federal lobbying scandal centering around convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, implicating former DeLay staffers. DeLay also is fighting Texas state charges of laundering campaign donations.

‘Mentor’ an overstatement

DeLay’s name has been looming in the 6th Congressional District race to replace Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

Duckworth has been invoking DeLay on two fronts: his ethical woes and the conservative values which he advocates.

“Pete Roskam’s agenda reflects the values of his mentor, Tom DeLay. It does not reflect the interests and concerns of the 6th Congressional District,” Duckworth said in a thank-you letter to supporters she sent after the primary.

I talked to Roskam on Tuesday. Duckworth’s constant refrain that DeLay is his “mentor” is an overstatement, he said. I agree. More than 20 years ago, during DeLay’s first term, Roskam worked about seven months for him as a legislative aide.

“I think the Duckworth campaign is really stretched and desperate in trying to make this a close association,” Roskam said.

The House this week is poised to take up a watered-down ethics and lobbying bill.

Duckworth backs some strong ethics proposals offered by her mentors who have nurtured her candidacy, Emanuel and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Emanuel and Obama’s ideas regrettably were rejected by the Senate and the House won’t do any better.

Roskam said he would support whatever House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) does, since he has “confidence” in Hastert’s ability to pass a bill to restore public trust.

Congressional ethics is a legitimate issue in the Roskam-Duckworth race. Soon there will be real House ethics votes to use to measure up Roskam and Duckworth.

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