Can the onetime "Hammer" of the U.S. House of Representatives do a mean Texas two-step?
In a move startling even by the outlandish standards of reality television, "Dancing With the Stars" announced Monday that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- a pugnacious politician under indictment for alleged money-laundering -- will be a contestant in the upcoming season.
DeLay will join the likes of singer Macy Gray, actress Melissa Joan Hart and entertainer Donny Osmond on the ninth season of the ABC show, which premieres Sept. 21. It's the highest-profile move by the former Republican power broker since he left Congress in 2006 after being indicted in Texas in 2005 in connection with alleged campaign finance violations, in a case that is still pending.
"Every season we try to change the game a little and spread the net a bit wider," said Conrad Green, executive producer of "Dancing With the Stars," in an interview. "We wanted someone sort of iconic and who the audience would have strong feelings about."
That would appear not to be a problem, given DeLay's outspokenness on abortion, religion and the environment over the years. Green said he wanted to include a politician to shake up the dynamics of the program, which pairs celebrities with professional dancers. He added that he considered DeLay's indictment before offering him the role, but decided it was not enough to keep him off the program.
"It's not a political decision, putting him on the show," he said. "It's just a bit of fun."
For his part, DeLay seems to have put politicking on the back burner for now and thrown himself into his new role as a reality-show contestant. His blog, TomDeLay.com, had been scrubbed of political content Monday and renamed "Dancing With DeLay."
"I think you'll be impressed by my moves," he wrote on his new Twitter account.
DeLay's wife, Christine, said the longtime politician, 62, is a big fan of the show and has been working out all summer to prepare for the rigorous contest. He has a repertoire that includes the two-step, polka, waltz, country swing and disco, she told Emily Miller, DeLay's former communications director, in an interview posted on Politics Daily.
The news of DeLay's selection triggered irate complaints from many fans and some amusement among the political cognoscenti. Shortly after host Tom Bergeron announced the new cast on "Good Morning America," angry viewers posted comments on ABC's message board denouncing the decision to invite DeLay on the glittery dance program.
"Tom DeLay is an albatross that you've hung around your own necks," read one typical message. "I guess you guys couldn't help but to put a disgraceful political personality out there -- what's next a famous murderer? I hear Squeaky Fromme is available."
"I guess you couldn't get Bernie Madoff," wrote another viewer.
The response in Washington was more sardonic.
"Also: Denny Hastert to be on American Idol," ABC's chief White House correspondent, Jake Tapper, quipped on Twitter.
DeLay -- nicknamed "The Hammer" for the hardball tactics he used to keep members of Congress in line -- lost his powerful perch during a corruption scandal that ensnared former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close DeLay associate. Facing separate money-laundering charges filed by Ronnie Earle, then the Democratic district attorney in Travis County, Texas, DeLay decided not to seek reelection.
Earle did not respond to an e-mail for comment. A spokesman for his successor, Travis County Dist. Atty. Rosemary Lehmberg, had no comment. Prosecutors have been waiting for an appellate court to take action on motions filed by DeLay's co-defendants.
"Frankly, this case seems to have stalled completely," producer Green said Monday. "I believe in innocent before proven guilty."
In addition, Green said he hopes that the participation of a onetime prominent Republican lawmaker on the show will help him land one of his dream contestants: former President Bill Clinton. "For the honor of the Democratic Party, he needs to step up," he said.
No matter DeLay's dancing ability, Green said that the mere presence of the combative conservative will spark passionate involvement by the show's fans.
"If anyone knows how to mobilize the vote, it's Tom DeLay," he said.
DeLay already has a history of trying to corral support for contestants on the show. Shortly after leaving office in 2006, he sent a letter to supporters urging them to vote for country music star Sara Evans when she was competing on the program. DeLay noted that she was up against "ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer," adding: "We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans."
Evans ended up quitting the program after filing for divorce from her husband of 13 years.
This is not the first time "Dancing With the Stars" has selected a contestant with legal problems. Rapper Lil' Kim, who was on Season 8, spent 10 months in prison for lying about a shooting. Two years ago, the show cast actor Vincent Pastore of "The Sopranos," who had pleaded guilty to attempted assault against his former fiancee. Pastore dropped out before the season began because of the physical demands.
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A not-so-delicate dance
Tom DeLay, the former GOP congressman and ABC's newest "Dancing With the Stars" contestant, has -- in addition to his legal woes -- had some controversial opinions. A few of them:
"The EPA, the Gestapo of government, pure and simply has been one of the major clawhooks that the government has maintained on the backs of our constituents."
-- on the Environmental Protection Agency
"To claim that our Founding Fathers were for separation of church and state is either rewriting history or being very ignorant of history. It is simply impossible and it's unwise to try to separate people and their government from religion."
-- on faith-based funding and separation of church and state
"Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence."
-- speaking after the defeat of a gun control bill in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre
Source: Los Angeles Times archives