- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Robert S. Bloxom is expected to be Virginia’s first secretary of agriculture, taking charge of state agencies with duties as diverse as testing gasoline pumps and ensuring milk is stored at the right temperature.

Mr. Bloxom, 67, is a Republican who has served 13 terms representing the Eastern Shore in the House of Delegates.

Farmers, farm-related businesses and their lobbies for 20 years sought a seat in the governor’s inner circle, stretching the Cabinet to a dozen.

Democratic Gov. Mark Warner pledged to create an agriculture post as a candidate in 2001, but delayed it for three years because of budget constraints.

For the first time, a Cabinet officer has been designated to manage oversight, regulation and marketing for Virginia’s $47 billion annual agriculture industry, the largest overall sector of the state’s economy.

Genial, understated and respected by House Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Bloxom clearly was ill at ease in recent years with the increasingly partisan nature of the General Assembly.

Last year, he did not seek re-election from a sparsely populated district that grows 80 percent of Virginia’s vegetables. Democrat Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. was elected to succeed him.

Mr. Bloxom’s appointment is subject to legislative confirmation that is expected to encounter little, if any, opposition next month.

• Tour de Mikulski

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, newly elected to her fourth term, kicked off her 2005 statewide tour with a stop in the far corner of Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Wednesday.

The meeting in the Berlin Fire Hall was partially self-promotional — to draw attention to the local funding Miss Mikulski secured in next year’s federal budget. And it was partly informational — to give elected officials from the Lower Shore a chance to outline their New Year’s wish list.

Over the next year, Miss Mikulski plans to hold regional gatherings with local officials statewide.

The main concerns of the Eastern Shore were covered in the 75-minute meeting — roads, coastal bays, poultry and the Chesapeake Bay.

John “Sonny” Bloxom, president of Worcester County Commissioners, asked Miss Mikulski to remember Maryland’s coastal bays as she focuses on securing money to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

The region’s clam farming industry and recreational boating depends on the smaller bays’ health, he said.

• Raking it in

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner can’t run for re-election in 2005, but he is assembling a fat campaign chest.

The Washington Post reported that Mr. Warner celebrated his 50th birthday Wednesday night with a fund-raiser at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner. About 1,000 people attended the gathering, and Mr. Warner’s One Virginia political action committee took in $2 million, a record for one night by a Virginia politician.

Virginia law precludes a sitting governor from running for election, but Mr. Warner could use the money to help other Democratic candidates in the state. He also might hold some of the money to cover early expenses should he seek national office. Some supporters think Mr. Warner might consider a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

• Seeking third term

Salisbury, Md., Mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman says she will run for a third term.

Mrs. Tilghman officially filed papers to run again Wednesday, saying her administration has a lot more to do.

She said her recent initiative to increase the number of owner-occupied homes is in its infancy and will need plenty of attention. She also said she wants to preserve the positive climate for economic development and try to provide more affordable housing.

Mrs. Tilghman has had contentious relations with the City Council but said she has been encouraged working with the most recent council members.

• Contribution cause

Common Cause Maryland is calling for an investigation into nearly two dozen companies and people it says broke Maryland’s limits on political contributions.

The group said information from the state Board of Elections indicates that 18 companies and four persons gave more than the $10,000 limit for the 1999-2002 election cycle.

“The current limits aren’t working,” said James Browning, the group’s Maryland director. “They’re not limiting the influence of wealthy donors, and we need reform.”

The law, designed to limit the influence of campaign contributors on an election, limits giving by a person or corporation to $10,000 to all candidates and political action committees in a four-year cycle. A person or company is allowed to give no more than $4,000 to one candidate in a cycle.

The biggest violation Common Cause reported was by Cherry Hill Construction, a Jessup contracting company that has handled some high-profile public projects, including the new parking garage and terminal access road at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The company gave $23,255 to candidates in the past election cycle, according to the report.

Representatives of other companies on the list said that if they exceeded the limits, it was unintentional.

“It would surprise me if we had exceeded the limits,” said Kap Kapastin, general counsel for Bethesda-based Quantum Realty Management Inc., which is listed as donating $13,351.

The report identifies three donors that have exceeded their limits for the 2003-2006 cycle after having done so in the previous cycle — Schochor, Federico & Staton PA, a law firm specializing in medical malpractice cases; Baltimore Marine Center, which operates a marina, apartment, office and retail complex in the Baltimore waterfront neighborhood of Canton; and Doracon, a Baltimore contracting company that has worked on public projects such as the Murphy Homes demolition and the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.

• Another ‘coon dog’

A former Buchanan County, Va., road official admitted in federal court to steering millions of dollars in government contracts to businesses in exchange for about $90,000 in bribes.

Kenneth Morris Hale, 52, last week became the 13th defendant to plead guilty in a prosecution called “Operation Big Coon Dog” because some of the bribes involved prized hunting dogs.

“I accepted something that didn’t belong to me, more or less to keep my mouth shut,” Hale told U.S. District Judge James Jones during his sentencing Tuesday.

Hale, who oversaw road and bridge maintenance for the county as its coal road engineer, remains free on $10,000 bond until sentencing, which was not scheduled.

Hale and 15 others were arrested in June after an investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service led to accusations that the men swapped more than $8 million in federally financed flood cleanup contracts for coon dogs, cash, guns, auto parts and other bribes totaling $545,000.

Stuart Ray Blankenship, then chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, hatched the plot and rigged the contracts with help from Hale and others, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in August and awaits sentencing.

Besides nine contractors, those charged with taking part in the scheme include six county officials and one employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• Going but not gone

U.S. Rep. Ed Schrock of Virginia may be leaving Congress, but he still could have a role in shaping national policy. The Virginia Beach Republican is taking a job with the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees government operations and reviews most legislation related to the District of Columbia.

Mr. Schrock sat on the committee during the current session. Fellow Virginia Republican Thomas M. Davis III is chairman of the panel.

Mr. Schrock abruptly gave up his re-election campaign in August after a homosexual activist said the two-term congressman had solicited sex with men. Mr. Schrock spent 24 years in the Navy and worked as a stock broker before running for Congress.

This column is based on wire service reports.

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