- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

The D.C. Council this week passed legislation that bans smoking in restaurants and nightspots. The ban will hurt the city’s No. 1 commercial industry (hospitality), but that didn’t stop lawmakers from caving in to lobbyists whose primary concern is beating up on smokers and Big Tobacco. It’s an overzealous, anti-choice stance that is attempting to turn the nation’s capital into San Francisco on the East Coast.

The District’s political identity is so liberal, it was a cakewalk for politicians like lawmaker David Catania, a homosexual, to hoodwink the D.C. Republican Party into thinking he was on their side of the street. Mr. Catania tossed his Republican-in-name-only card into the Potomac once he gained clout in City Hall and became angered by conservatives’ pro-marriage movement. And there’s chatter he wants to rule the henhouse.

The bill, the anti-smoking crowd said, was on behalf of smokers, reformed smokers and secondhand smokers. Now, like Puff, the magical dragon, Mr. Catania and his crowd are generating applause. Somebody needs to remind them that while dragons are mythical monsters, the anti-smoking bill will put a drag not on business and revenue.

Mayor Tony Williams said he considering using his veto pen on the anti-smoking bill, despite the fact that the council can nullify his effort. (I encourage him to stand his mayoral ground.) A waste of political capital? Hardly. As Republican Council member Carol Schwartz said, “People will either stay home of they will go where they can smoke. And I have said along that our competition is only a five-minute Metro ride away or a 10-minute drive away.” Said the mayor: “My problem… is this leaking out into Virginia. And I think that we are not in a position as a city to be taking that for granted.”

Both the Republican and the Democrat hit the economic reality nail on the head. Virginia is for smokers.

The posturing on the smoking issue stands picture-perfect on what the remainder of this election season will look like. While Republicans and Democrats on the national scene position themselves for midterm elections, our gang seeks headlines based on liberal issues: who will say “more money for schools” the loudest; who will court the anti-“heterosexual” vote; who will push hard, other than Mr. Catania and lawmaker Jim Graham, to make sure we spend more and more tax dollars on failed or questionable social programs; and who will be the spokesman for “justice” instead of law and order. Baseball will be on the front burner, too.

As the four hours of debate on amendments to the anti-smoking legislation proved, a picture is worth a 1,000 words. The Kodak moment was a shot by Astrid Reicken that appeared in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times of Jim I want-a-citywide-seat Graham chatting up folk in the anti-smoking clan. This is the lawmaker who, not long ago, said he wasn’t sure where he stood. Can D.C. taxpayers and other stakeholders afford to “promote” a legislator who’s uncertain of political winds. Haven’t we been there with former Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon? Didn’t we decide not to go there with Harold Brazil?

Do we have options outside of City Hall? Washington remains a small Southern town, geographically speaking.

Let’s look in the Magic Mirror, as Miss Connie would say. There’s Marie Johns, a woman who knows how to make up her own mind and doesn’t need the Democratic Party to tell her which way is up. I’d love to see her in a mayoral candidates forum, tete a tete, with, say, Council member Adrian Fenty. For Mr. Fenty, sound bites and haberdashery have their respectable places in the big picture. But when it comes to commonsense, managerial nuts and bolts and camaraderie, ears perk up when Mrs. Johns speaks.

Chairman Linda Cropp, who is running for mayor, and Chairman Pro Tempore Jack Evans, who wants the chairman’s seat, are the two Democratic lawmakers who have the most to lose this election year. Freelancers, like independent David Catania, can confuse the apathetic, even well-intentioned voters, who live in Puff’s make-believe world, where Rodney King’s meme about us all getting along holds hard and fast. Independent voters hold a special place on registration rolls and in opinion polls, but independent politicians can wreak havoc on conscientious policy-making and lawmaking. (Just ask Minnesota about Jesse Ventura and Congress about Jim Jeffords.) The confusion feeds the identity crisis. (But we won’t hear Howard Dean confess to that.)

2006 could prove to be the make or break year for D.C. taxpayers, who should look into their bank accounts and listen attentively before hitting the voting booths. Here’s hoping the D.C. Republican Party, and fiscal and social conservatives have a few trump cards — and that they play them before the liberals get their annual call up from Capitol Hill.

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