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Leave it to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, House majority leader and ideologue savant, to try to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. DeLay has devised the perfect strategy to prove his long-held conviction that government is inherently abusive. Give the government more power, he has long railed, and it will abuse that power every time. How far is he willing to go to prove his anti-government animus? DeLay is at the center of a brewing storm over the role of the feds in the search for 51 Democratic Texas legislators who skedaddled across the border into Oklahoma, depriving the state Legislature of a quorum and delaying DeLay’s dream of a do-over in congressional redistricting in his home state. Much has been written on the mystery of who duped the Department of Homeland Security into delving into redistricting. That’s an important question. The involvement of two federal agencies — Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration — in a state political squabble already has sparked internal investigations by both agencies and an investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Homeland Security may have been misled by the Texas Department of Public Safety into believing a plane belonging to Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, had crashed or was missing. (Laney and his plane are fine.) That’s the same DPS that, as has been widely reported, shredded records relating to its pursuit of the Dems in self-imposed exile. It is, of course, a federal crime to lie to or mislead a federal agency, in this case regarding the whereabouts of an aircraft. Indeed, Tom Ridge, the secretary of Homeland Security, justified his refusal to turn over to Congress records regarding the alleged misuse of his agency by pointing to an ongoing investigation by the inspector general with potential criminal ramifications. Given those ramifications, we’re waiting for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to weigh in . . . waiting . . . waiting. . . . For the record, Delay denies that he or his staff lured Homeland Security into the search for Laney’s plane, though he says he goosed his staff to call the Department of Justice, which wisely sat out this one. What isn’t clear is whether DeLay encouraged others to summon the feds or whether he knew of federal involvement during the manhunt. What’s abundantly clear is that Delay isn’t much concerned with cracking this mystery. Changing Color Code A reason to duck the whole duping of agencies/destruction of records morass is that I come to praise, not bury, DeLay. When Homeland Security was created from parts or all of 22 different federal agencies, everyone assumed its sole mission was to track, trap and terminate terrorists. It took a true visionary to see the vast, untapped uses for the newborn behemoth. Sure, a few chronic complainers, a.k.a. civil libertarians, groused that the creation of this super-agency invited abuse. Even here, DeLay may have done the country a service by ending speculation over when the new agency would land in hot water. By the way, congrats to those of you who, in the office pool on when Homeland Security would stumble, took “before the ink dried on the bill creating it.” You won. DeLay’s greater service, in my opinion, has been freeing Homeland Security from its narrow mission of keeping us safe from terrorists. If the new department has time to dabble in state politics, surely it must have time for all types of nonterror-related tasks. Moreover, DeLay’s timing couldn’t be better. While he’s busy unfettering Homeland Security from its statutory shackles, Ridge is tweaking the color-coded terrorism alert system, according to a June 6, 2003, New York Times article. Thus far, the main beneficiaries of the color code have been David Letterman, Jay Leno and a slew of stand-up comics. To wed DeLay’s vision with Ridge’s color scheme, I would propose something along the lines of this: Color — Old meaning — New meaning Green — Low-level alert — Lawn out of control Blue — Guarded — Offensive material on TV/radio Yellow — Elevated — Yella Dawg Dems on the loose Orange — High — Low on orange juice, milk etc. Red — Severe — Truly embarrassing situations Truly embarrassing situations would include such blushworthy events as locking oneself out of one’s car or home. DeLay’s timely reform puts the home back in Homeland Security. It transforms an agency borne of the horrors of 9/11 into a national 9-1-1 number, handling all the tasks too menial or time-consuming for local 9-1-1 operators. Think of the goodwill generated for the new department by its newfound role of picking up stray dogs or stray Dems. Free the Department of Homeland Security, and then let’s watch the chickens come home to roost. And if the critters don’t come home to roost, just call Homeland Security. Operators are standing by. Paul Coggins is a principal in the Dallas office of Fish & Richardson, a national intellectual property, complex litigation and corporate law firm. He is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas. His e-mail address is [email protected]. “The Cutting Edge” is an opinion column that appears monthly in Texas Lawyer.

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