- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

AWOL legislators

Twenty-five members of Congress, including Sen. John Kerry, received thousands of dollars in pay even though they were absent for long periods in 2003 and 2004, usually to campaign for higher office, the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) said in a study released this week.

The NTU said an obscure but valid law calls for members of Congress to be stripped of pay during absences unless they or a family member are ill, but congressional leaders have failed to enforce the law, while rank-and-file lawmakers seem reluctant to voluntarily comply.

“Members of Congress claim they follow the laws that apply to everyone else, but our research shows that many senators and representatives won’t even follow laws that apply explicitly to themselves,” saidNTU President John Berthoud.

The organization cited a number of Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates, including Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts, then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, then-Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio.

But House members bidding for Senate seats also were prominent on the list, including Brad Carson, Oklahoma Democrat; Mac Collins, Georgia Republican; Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican; Peter Deutsch, Florida Democrat; Joseph M. Hoeffel, Pennsylvania Democrat; Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican; Chris John, Louisiana Democrat; Denise L. Majette, Georgia Democrat; George Nethercutt, Washington Republican; and Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican.

From January 2003 to the October 2004 recess, Mr. Kerry missed 146 days of votes without being granted leave. Total salary overpayment: $90,932.68. His running mate, John Edwards, compiled 102 days of unexcused absences during that period, for an overpayment of $63,543.16. Both senators missed every vote during the months of July, September and October.

RFK Jr.’s decision

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said yesterday he will not run for attorney general of New York, taking him out of a race that could have set him against his estranged brother-in-law, Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. Kennedy, 51, said that running for the office now held by Eliot Spitzer would have forced him to sacrifice time with his wife and six children. Mr. Kennedy said he did plan to run for public office when his children were older. His youngest, a son, is 3 years old.

“After careful consideration and discussion with my family, I have decided that I cannot take this step at this time,” said Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and son of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

He said he wanted to be with his children “to make a difference in their lives while I still can.” But he added that a run for public office “will indeed be the next step in my career.”

Mr. Kennedy is chief lawyer for the environmental group Riverkeeper and has been an environmental activist for more than two decades.

In an interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Mr. Kennedy said his decision had nothing to do with a possible run against Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Kennedy refused to discuss their relationship.

Mr. Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, is the estranged husband of Mr. Kennedy’s sister, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. In 2003, when the couple’s separation was announced, Mr. Cuomo’s attorney created a stir by saying Mr. Cuomo “was betrayed and saddened by his wife’s conduct during their marriage.” The lawyer didn’t elaborate.

Turner vs. Fox

Ted Turner charged yesterday that Fox News is an arm of the Bush administration, and he compared the network’s popularity to Hitler’s popularity in Germany before World War II.

Mr. Turner, the founder of second-place CNN, made the comments before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Association for Television Programming Executives’ opening session yesterday, Matt Drudge wrote at his Web site (www.drudgerport.com).

His remarks during the one-hour Q&A; generated frequent loud applause and laughter, Broadcasting & Cable reports.

While Fox News Channel may be the largest news network, it’s not the best, Mr. Turner said.

He followed up by pointing out that Adolf Hitler got the most votes when he was elected to run Germany. He said the network is the propaganda tool for the Bush administration.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down,” leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff, he said.

A spokesman for Fox News responded: “Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network and now his mind — we wish him well.”

In 1996, Mr. Turner apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for comparing Fox owner Rupert Murdoch to Hitler.

Eyes on Georgia

“The calendar says it is 2005, but congressional redistricting is or again could be on the table in Georgia, Illinois and California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing to change the way redistricting is done. He wants to take it out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to a panel of retired judges,” Stuart Rothenberg writes in Roll Call.

“The first substantial development may well come in Georgia, where GOP legislative leaders continue to talk about redrawing the state’s congressional districts next year now that the party controls both houses of the Legislature and the governorship,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

“Party leaders acknowledge that they would face roadblocks — and criticism — if they were to redraw the districts mid-decade. But they insist the current lines, drawn by the Democrats, are so bizarre that a new map could both improve Republican prospects in two districts and be defended as a ‘good government’ plan that creates compact districts and respects local government units.”

In Illinois, Democrats now control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, but a new redistricting would require disavowal of a compromise reached with Republicans earlier in the decade, Mr. Rothenberg said.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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