- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not props

“President Bush rode a 14-vehicle motorcade there and back to the Marriott Wardman to talk to the Renewable Fuels Association about energy conservation and other topics. En route, the motorcade passed the Exxon station next to the Watergate, where gas prices were $3.29, $3.39 and $3.49 a gallon.”

— Yesterday’s official White House pool report

Against all odds

On the heels of the Democratic Party labeling him a pawn of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is locked in a hot race for the U.S. Senate, said yesterday that if elected as the first black U.S. senator from his state, he will not be a water boy to any party, Republican or Democrat.

“When I met with [Republican Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist, he said he was very excited about my prospects of coming to the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Steele told Inside the Beltway in an interview. “But I told him, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ I told him I don’t want to come up here to carry anyone else’s water or agenda except the people of Maryland’s.

“That is my singular push,” he stressed. “And that is the message I am sharing with voters.”

They appear to be listening, particularly black voters who have traditionally sided with Democrats.

A poll of 489 black voters in Maryland, commissioned last month by the Democratic National Committee, found upwards of 45 percent would consider jumping ship to support Mr. Steele, an anomaly that political observers in the state are now referring to as “the emerging black swing vote.” And which Mr. Steele said explains why “concerned and fearful” Democrats have resorted to repeated race-based attacks on his character, which have made national headlines.

“It explains the footprints on my back that have been left there over the last year from the Democratic Party,” he told this column, while welcoming the black support from across the aisle.

“It’s reflective of what I see around the state and in my own neighborhood, at Starbucks and at the mall, the resonance that we are having with voters. I am very proud of my three years of hopefully good public service,” said Mr. Steele, the first black ever elected to statewide office in Maryland.

“At the same time, we don’t agree on everything, and that is healthy and good. But I would hope that African-American voters would be willing to give me an honest shot with this job.”

Racial makeup aside, Mr. Steele realizes that Republican officeholders in his state are an exception — and a recent one — not the rule.

“Look, I am a Republican running in a blue state,” he said. “I want this race to be about people, not about Democrats and Republicans. I’m in a very good position right now, but I have a lot of work left to do, a lot more convincing to do in order to give voters a true sense of who I am.”

American-Kiwi

At the same time President Bush has invited millions of illegal aliens to remain in the United States, officials in New Zealand are encouraging Americans to immigrate to their country. And why not?

Apart from its amazing beauty, a pair of New Zealand’s largest cities have just been ranked in the top 15 in the world for quality of living (political, social, environmental, personal safety, health, education and public services), according to a 2006 Mercer Human Resources Consulting study.

“We’re thrilled with these rankings and hope that American workers will take notice and apply for jobs here in New Zealand,” says Immigration New Zealand’s Don Badman. “We are actively recruiting skilled U.S. workers to our country, as we have an abundance of jobs … and a simple application process for skilled people.”

A new residency application process was introduced in New Zealand in February 2004. The number of Americans applying to live in the South Pacific country has increased threefold in the last five years (3,400 in the last two years).

Syrup, George?

While President Bush continues flexing his muscles with North Korea on the nuclear issue, Americans are said to be flocking to the communist nation for their vacations.

The global travel industry newsletter ETurboNews says that from August to October this year, North Korea will open its doors even wider to U.S. citizens for the country’s annual Arirang Festival, which features a cast of more than 100,000 performers.

It repeats the assertion that North Korean tours for Americans have been “selling like hot cakes.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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