The majority leader is also opening a second office this spring, in his new territory of Webster.
DeLay is getting to know his new constituents in places such as Clear Lake, Pasadena and League City at a time when he is being bombarded with unwelcome attention and damaging publicity. Lesley Stahl of CBS's "60 Minutes" questioned DeLay about legal issues last month when he was trying to talk about tsunami relief, and she interviewed Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is conducting the grand jury that indicted DeLay's three associates.
Newly vulnerable in his home district, Rep. Tom DeLay, left, appears in Sugar Land, Tex., at a cook-off with service club members and town officials.
Last week, the National Journal reported that DeLay, his wife, Christine, and close aides had traveled the world with Jack Abramoff, who once was one of the Republican Party's most powerful lobbyists and now is facing criminal and congressional investigations for millions of dollars in fees he received from casino-operating Indian tribes seeking to influence the federal government. The magazine reported that the National Center for Public Policy Research, which had Abramoff as a board member, paid for DeLay's trips in 2000 to Scotland and London, where he stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, and to Russia in 1997.
DeLay's staff said he reported the trips on his financial disclosure forms and did work at each stop, meeting with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, speaking to Scotland's Conservative Caucus and pushing for religious freedom in Moscow.
The congressman, asked about the trips in a meeting with reporters Tuesday, said: "We reported that in the travel disclosure form, as we are supposed to do." He said the group "paid for the trip and we disclosed it, like we are supposed to do."
DeLay asserts that here in Sugar Land, a former plantation that became a company town for sugar growers and refiners, none of that matters anyway. This is the area where he ran a pest-control business before being elected to the Texas House in 1978 on a platform of cutting taxes and regulations.
"People walk up to me," DeLay said, "and say, 'Well, it looks like they're after you again. You hang in there. We know who you are. We know what you're trying to do, and you're doing the right things. We're with you. We're praying for you. Just keep at it.' That makes me feel good. That's why I love coming home every week, because I get out of Washington, D.C., and come down to real people that know what I'm trying to do."
Here, DeLay is the guy who lives in the $400,000 cookie-cutter brick house, has two fluffy white lap dogs and keeps an office with the understated sign "Tom DeLay, Member of Congress."
Houston Mayor Bill White, former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said DeLay was "ruthless" on redistricting but has been cooperative in getting money for the area and has moved to make amends with corporate leaders he alienated with his opposition to funding for light rail instead of buses.
Indeed, DeLay is greeted as a sugar daddy almost everywhere he goes here. During a symposium DeLay attended last week at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, he was repeatedly saluted in the speeches and PowerPoint presentations for the federal funds he had helped arrange for the school's Center for Biosecurity and Public Health Preparedness, which bills itself as "improving our nation's health security."
Edd Hendee, who owns the Taste of Texas restaurant in Houston, teaches a Bible study class that DeLay attends at a local Baptist church, and said the other members love to tease the big shot. "Like they'll have the top 10 reasons not to be late to class: 'You don't want to walk in with Congressman DeLay and have his two thugs frisk you outside,' " Hendee said. "It's a hoot. He'll shoot back something like, 'I can arrange a private frisking for you.' "
Richard Morrison, a lawyer and environmentalist who was DeLay's opponent in November, has begun raising money online to run again, using the slogan "real Texas values."
And DeLay is working his district like a freshman. One night last week he took the microphone at the Sugar Land Exchange Club spaghetti cook-off and, joshing about fast-talking politicians who want to take your money, spent 11 minutes auctioning a charity golf package and two other lots.
"I've got $650," he chanted, showing off skills he says he learned in a correspondence course more than 25 years ago. "Make it a seven. $700? $700. Seven and a half? Whoa! Seven and a half. New blood! Thank you. It's a steal for seven and a half. You got it, sir. It's all yours. $750!"