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Lawmaker’s Plight a Sweet, Sour Affair in Sugar Land

Times Staff Writer

The day after a Texas grand jury indicted U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on a felony conspiracy charge, views of the case by residents in his congressional district tended to track party lines, though some of his fellow Republicans were not ready to discount the allegation.

“There have been questions about him before, so I’m going to wait and see what comes out,” said Allison Kuhlmann, a Republican resident of this immaculate Houston suburb who previously voted for DeLay. “It could be politics, just hype, but there could be a case against him. I don’ t know yet.”

Kuhlmann, a 32-year-old mother of two young children, said that although she had little time to discuss politics, “I think you should pay attention and see what the evidence against him is, then make a decision on whether you’ll vote for him again.”

Engineer Don Harrison, 53, is also a DeLay supporter. But with so many questions raised about DeLay’s dealings, “ ‘stature’ is not a word you would use to describe” the congressman, he said. “The guy has been on the edge with fundraising.”

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Still, he said, DeLay is such a fixture in this district that “these charges will absolutely have no effect on his popularity here. It won’t stick, and it won’t matter.”

Carrie Graves, a marketing director, said she “felt sick to my stomach” when she heard about the indictment. “I love Tom and [wife] Christine DeLay. He has worked fervently to represent us.”

Graves, 45, said she planned to write a letter to DeLay after she finished shopping Thursday. “Some people are out on a witch hunt,” she said. “I want him to know we’ll always support him.”

Residents who have never voted for DeLay are delighted with his problems.

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“I’m happy this happened,” said Jeanie Six, 54, standing near the Ka-Bloom flower shop in the town center. “He’s been questionable for a while and now things have caught up with him. I think he should be asked to step down from office. Most people don’t want a congressman in their district who’s been indicted. Why should he keep his job?”

Investment banker Mark Nelson, 52, said he had never understood DeLay’s appeal.

“I don’t know why people have continued to vote for him when there’s been a cloud over him for so long,” Nelson said. “I think this has a chance to finally change people’s minds.”

Susan Bankston, a Democratic blogger and longtime observer of local politics, agreed. Although DeLay has been unbeaten at the polls since 1984 -- sometimes winning with as much as 70% of the vote -- he won the 2004 election in a comparative squeaker, garnering 55% of the vote against an underfunded Democrat.

“This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Bankston said, adding that unhappiness with DeLay “has been building over the years.”

Republican friends have told her they cringe when DeLay appears on television “because he might say something totally insane,” she said.

“He’s becoming an embarrassment.”

But Norman Mason, who until July was chairman of the Texas Christian Coalition, said the indictment would be a mere blip in DeLay’s long political career.

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“The Democrats are swinging at him now, but Tom can be very aggressive and can deliver a pretty good punch,” said Mason, who has lived in Sugar Land since the early 1980s.

“Those who support Tom are still 100% behind him. There is nothing that is going to come out of the Travis County district attorney’s office that’s going to dissuade us.”


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