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Political Scene

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2010

HOUSE

Souder aide resigns after affair

A woman who worked with Indiana Rep. Mark Souder to prepare videos on the virtues of family values and abstinence has resigned after the Republican congressman acknowledged having an affair with her.

Two senior congressional aides with firsthand knowledge of the decision said that Tracy Jackson was a part-time employee on Mr. Souder's congressional staff, based in his northeast Indiana congressional district.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

According to the sources, Miss Jackson resigned on Tuesday, soon after Mr. Souder announced he would resign his congressional seat and admitted having an extramarital affair.

A social conservative, Mr. Souder built his public persona on social issues and talked about the importance of family values.

MASSACHUSETTS

Ross lacks signatures for governor primary

BOSTON | The 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial race came into sharp focus on Wednesday, as a potential Democratic candidate failed to qualify for the ballot and the fall campaign winnowed to a four-way field: incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican Charles Baker, independent Timothy Cahill and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein.

Worcester community activist Grace Ross announced she had failed to collect the necessary 10,000 signatures to qualify for a Sept. 14 primary showdown with Mr. Patrick, a fellow Democrat, who is seeking a second term.

Barring any write-in candidates, that means the fall campaign has begun, with the field set for the Nov. 2 general election.

Miss Ross, who also ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, literally fizzled out of the current race, standing with just four supporters in a steady drizzle outside the Statehouse to deliver her campaign swan song. Nearby, her Toyota Prius was parked illegally on Beacon Street, with its hazard flashers on.

Nonetheless, she seized the moment to complain about the influence the major political parties have in determining gubernatorial nominees and their running mates, about the state's ballot-signature requirements and about the supposed sway corporate interests have over citizen interests inside the Statehouse.

NEVADA

Anti-tax group backs GOP Senate candidate

An influential anti-tax group on Wednesday snubbed the Republican establishment pick challenging Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and endorsed a "tea party"-backed candidate.

The Club for Growth political committee announced its support for Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle over former state GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, who has stumbled after suggesting that patients should barter for health care with chickens.

"Sharron Angle is the true economic conservative in the Nevada Senate race, a candid, common-sense leader with the courage to stand up against liberal big spenders in both parties," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, a former Indiana Republican congressman.

Mr. Reid is lagging in polls behind a crowded cast of Republican hopefuls, which also includes Danny Tarkanian, son of former University of Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

The primary is June 8.

AGRICULTURE

Retailers urged to welcome stamp users

Attention, food-stamp recipients: Your business is appreciated.

The Agriculture Department announced Wednesday it will encourage grocery stores and other retail outlets that accept food stamps to post signs reading "We Welcome SNAP Benefits." The move is part of an effort to decrease the stigma of using government food assistance in a tough economy.

SNAP is an acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a recent name change designed to get away from the loaded phrase "food stamps."

Government food aid has grown in record levels over the last several years as the economic downturn has hurt families' bottom lines. Estimated spending on all domestic food-assistance programs increased more than 80 percent over the last three years.

SENATE

Kagan hearings to start June 28

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman moved quickly Wednesday to advance Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan down a so-far smooth road to confirmation, setting hearings for June 28.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said the schedule should allow the hearings to be completed before senators leave for a weeklong break in early July. In announcing it, Mr. Leahy was seizing the momentum building behind Ms. Kagan's nomination just over a week after President Obama selected her to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

"I would urge everybody to come to the hearing with an open mind, listen to her answers to those questions, and we will make sure that every senator - both sides of the aisle - has ample time to ask the questions they want," Mr. Leahy said.

The Judiciary Committee already sifted through much of Miss Kagan's record and background for its 2009 hearings on her nomination to be solicitor general, and the 50-year-old former Harvard Law School dean was confirmed then on a bipartisan Senate vote. Mr. Leahy said that history, plus Ms. Kagan's lack of experience as a judge - something Republicans have criticized - should make getting ready for these hearings "less labor-intensive."

NEW JERSEY

Ex-lawmaker convicted in corruption probe

TRENTON | A former New Jersey lawmaker arrested in the state's largest corruption sting has been found guilty of accepting a bribe and attempted extortion.

Former Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt had been accused of accepting $10,000 from an FBI informant who posed as a developer. Prosecutors say Mr. Van Pelt promised to use his position to help the informant gain development approvals.

Wednesday's verdict is the second conviction in the sting. Van Pelt is among 44 people who were arrested last July in the massive federal corruption and money-laundering probe.

Mr. Van Pelt, a Republican, had testified that he considered the informant a client in his fledgling consulting business.

He could face up to 20 years in prison for the attempted extortion count and up to 10 years on the bribery count.

MARYLAND

First ladies play games at school

SILVER SPRING | First lady Michelle Obama and her Mexican counterpart, Margarita Zavala, hopped, skipped and played a parachute game with elementary-school students in Maryland.

The first ladies later sat down with students in a free lunch program at Silver Spring's New Hampshire Estates Elementary School on Wednesday. The women helped students pass bowls of broccoli around the cafeteria tables, and Mrs. Zavala gave the students she met butterfly books from the Mexican state of Michoacan.

The school recently won an award for teaching healthy living and is involved in a program designed to protect and restore butterfly habitats across North America.

Mrs. Zavala and Mexican President Felipe Calderon were earlier welcomed to the White House by President Obama and the first lady.

From wire dispatches and staff reports