It's official, Chris Bell for Texas Governor will officially launch tomorrow. Go to http://www.chrisbell.com/ and learn, blog and donate.
WASHINGTON – Tom DeLay's initial tormentor, Chris Bell , returned to Washington last week, lining up support and plotting strategy for his run for Texas governor.
This time last year, Mr. Bell was still reeling from a post-redistricting defeat and preparing the ethics complaint that triggered an epic partisan battle in the House. That complaint led to two rare admonishments for Mr. DeLay, turning Mr. Bell, a one-term Houston congressman, into a folk hero to the majority leader's critics – and a target for Republicans.
Mr. DeLay has called him a "partisan stalker."
"His back is against the wall," said Mr. Bell, asserting that each new allegation about Mr. DeLay's ties with lobbyists, overseas travel funded by foreign interests and other matters vindicates his demand last year for a full inquiry.
"The admonishments pushed DeLay to a place that he didn't want to be, and that was above the radar screen," Mr. Bell said in a half-hour chat in his consulting office near the Capitol.
Mr. DeLay has denied any violation of the law or House rules. With pressure mounting, he's asked for a hearing before the House ethics committee to clear his name. Last week, Republicans offered to open an inquiry immediately. Democrats refused, holding out for a reversal of new rules that require consent from both parties to open an investigation – a reversal of a long-standing rule that triggered inquiries in case of party-line deadlock.
Mr. Bell says he's not sure Democrats should walk away from the offer to put Mr. DeLay under a microscope. On the other hand, he's happy to see the majority leader twist in the wind as long as possible.
"I would like to see Tom DeLay run for president while I'm making this race for governor," Mr. Bell said. "I'd like it to be wall-to-wall Tom DeLay because he has become the figurehead for everything wrong with the Republican Party, and the only thing that does is help me, tremendously."
In response to the Bell complaint, the ethics panel admonished Mr. DeLay for enlisting the Federal Aviation Administration in the hunt for the plane owned by Democratic state Rep. Pete Laney during redistricting and for golfing with energy executives with an energy bill pending.
The committee later chided Mr. Bell for accusing Mr. DeLay of seeking a bribe from that company, calling the allegation "innuendo" and "exaggeration."
With four of five Republicans on the ethics committee saying last week that they'd like to open a DeLay inquiry, Mr. Bell says he hopes more facts emerge.
Analysts give him long odds of winning the governorship. Democrats have fared poorly in statewide races in recent years. And like most congressmen, he's largely unknown outside his home turf, which he couldn't hold after the Legislature shifted demographics to favor a black candidate.
His role in the ethics fight raised his profile, though, and he's doing his best to capitalize on that.
"I was willing to stand up and say enough is enough and file the ethics complaint. That, in and of itself, isn't a recipe for success in a governor's race, but it sure is nice to have a foot in the door," he said.