RICHMOND, Texas -- Out here, where the tendrils of Houston's growing exurbs reach for open ground, sits Rio Bend, a cluster of new houses and other facilities for parents having difficult times with troubled foster children -- difficulties like those Tom and Christine DeLay experienced with several teenagers they took into their home. Rio Bend was built by the DeLays, with help from friends, of sorts.
She, an acerbic realist from south Texas, says more houses are planned by their charitable organization, but: ``I hated to lose the leadership position because it helps me to raise money for those kids.'' Note her agreeably guileless acknowledgement that some friends of Rio Bend may not have been seized by simple altruism. She shares here husband's credo -- power is useful and should be used -- and knows the moral ambiguities it can involve.
He strides like a bantam rooster into the living room of one of the Rio Bend bungalows, having just been buoyed by an appreciative luncheon of 400 realtors to whom he read a list of earmarks -- personally directed spending, aka pork -- he has delivered to his district. Most people, battered as he recently has been, would be curled up on the carpet in a fetal position. But DeLay is as direct and uncomplicated as the tool that supplies his nickname -- ``The Hammer'' -- and his faults do not include being a whiner.
Furthermore, he is not about to plea bargain in the court of public opinion. He chafes under prudential reticence: His attorneys tell him not to trumpet the fact that the Justice Department told them he is not a target in the Abramoff investigation. But about other matters, the bantam is belligerent.
Earmarks? Although recently ``they got out of hand,'' they are, he says, necessary and proper because it is best to have spending dictated by a politician who knows his district's needs: ``We are an equal branch of government -- why should we let a bureaucrat decide?'' He says that in a state like Illinois, which is dominated by Democrats ``who play hardball,'' earmarks are the only way even Speaker Dennis Hastert can get highway money spent in his district.
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