Chip Somodevilla/Getty
August 19, 2009 12:00 AM

Why would the former majority leader of the House of Representatives want to compete on season 9 of Dancing With the Stars? “Why not?” answers former Republican congressman Tom DeLay.

Calling PEOPLE from his Sugar Land, Texas, home, DeLay says accepting the show’s offer was a no-brainer. “I just thought it was the neatest thing in the world,” says DeLay, one of 16 stars who’ll be ready to rumba when ABC’s hit show returns Sept. 21. “To be paid to learn how to ballroom dance is the ultimate. I’m giddy about it all.”

Even more delightful for DeLay, 62, are the comments on the Internet and in press reports about his joining the show. DeLay, who earned the nickname The Hammer in Congress, has been at the center of several major political controversies in his career.

“They have tried for the last 15 years to demonize me and this has got to be driving them crazy. Seeing some of the comments from the Democrats and the liberals just tickles me,” DeLay says, laughing.

DeLay, who will be paired with two-time Dancing champ Cheryl Burke, says that those expecting him to fall flat on his face are in for a surprise. “I’ve been dancing all my life,” says DeLay, who spent some of his childhood living in Venezuela. “I was the lead dancer in school productions.”

Of course that was then. Now, he concedes, “We’ll see what a 62-year-old can do. But I’m ready. I’ve been working for three months getting in shape and I’m serious about this. I want to learn how to dance and I want to do it well.”

DeLay is preparing to relocate to Los Angeles — and he’ll do it in style, hitting the road with his wife and their two dogs, bichon frises Bailey and Taylor, in the family’s RV.

“My wife won’t fly because she doesn’t want to fly our two bichons, so we got an RV a couple of years ago,” DeLay explains. “On our way to Los Angeles, we’re going to dance across the West. We’ll drive five or six hours, dance five hours.”

And once starts rehearsals for show time, DeLay has one goal in mind: “Have fun. I don’t have any illusions. I’m 11 years older than anybody on this show. If I go off the first week, then I’ve spent the four or five weeks before the show learning to do things I really enjoy.” –Monica Rizzo

Tell us: How will Tom DeLay do on Dancing with the Stars?Chip Somodevilla/Getty

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