- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

A Pickering supporter
"In a new twist in the battle over the nomination of Charles Pickering to a place on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a former top Clinton Justice Department official who also happens to be former Vice President Al Gore's brother-in-law has given the Senate Judiciary Committee a strong endorsement of Pickering's character," Byron York writes at www.nationalreview.com.
"The former official is Frank Hunger, who headed the Justice Department's Civil Division from 1993 until 1999. Like Pickering, Hunger is a Mississippian, and the two men have known each other for almost 30 years. Hunger is the man Pickering called in early 1995 when Pickering, a federal district judge in southern Mississippi, was trying to decide how to sentence a man convicted in a cross-burning case.
"Pickering had become frustrated by the Justice Department's reluctance to answer questions about sentencing practices for similar crimes and complained to Hunger, who told him the problem was outside his area of responsibility. Democratic Senator John Edwards, in a harsh interrogation at Pickering's February 7 confirmation hearing, accused Pickering of violating judicial ethics by calling Hunger.
"In a February 12 letter to committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking Republican Orrin Hatch, Hunger takes issue with those allegations. 'I have little or no recollection of the call,' Hunger writes. 'The significance of this to me is had I felt at the time that there was anything inappropriate or improper about Judge Pickering's call I would most assuredly remember it today.' Hunger says he has read Pickering's account of the matter and has 'no reason whatsoever to take issue with anything he [Pickering] has said about the call.'
"Hunger's letter continues with an endorsement of Pickering as a judge and a man," Mr. York said.

Those poor rubes
When blacks in Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr.'s hometown of Laurel, Miss., had almost nothing but praise for the federal appellate court nominee, liberal activist Ralph Neas "told the New York Times that this sort of local opinion didn't matter, because the poor rubes don't know the judge's real record," the Wall Street Journal observes in an editorial.
Mr. Neas, as president of People for the American Way, has led what even some liberals have described as an ugly campaign to falsely depict Mr. Pickering as a racist.
"What's going on here is that Mr. Neas has been caught red-handed," the Journal said. "He and his allies have been caught race-baiting for political purposes, and in a way that bears not even a passing resemblance to reality. The question now is whether Senate Democrats are going to keep playing the race card, too."

Riordan in trouble
Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan appears to be sinking fast with less than a week left before California Republicans go to the polls to choose their gubernatorial nominee.
A Los Angeles Times poll of likely Republican primary voters, published yesterday, showed that conservative businessman Bill Simon Jr. had moved into a tie with Mr. Riordan, who until recently was the prohibitive favorite to face Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in November.
Mr. Simon and Mr. Riordan each polled 31 percent, with Secretary of State Bill Jones at 14 percent.
Mr. Riordan has been hurt by charges that he is not a loyal Republican, as evidenced by his past campaign contributions to Democrats, including Mr. Davis. In addition, Mr. Davis, who is unopposed on the Democratic side, has begun an advertising campaign suggesting that Mr. Riordan is less than sincere in his pro-choice stance on abortion. Mr. Davis is betting that the more conservative Mr. Simon would be easier to beat than Mr. Riordan.
The primary is Tuesday.

Roll, Mississippi
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia yesterday denied an emergency appeal filed by Democrats in Mississippi's congressional-redistricting dispute, which could clear the way for the state to use a map drawn up by three Republican-appointed judges.
The appeal had been filed by lawyer Robert McDuff of Jackson, who wants the court to order the state to use a Democrat-backed congressional map drawn by Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise.
Justice Scalia's denial came hours after three federal judges in Jackson ordered that the state use a map they drew. Mr. McDuff immediately refiled his appeal with Justice David H. Souter. The lawyer said Justice Souter can take up the appeal or, more likely, forward it to the full court.
Mr. McDuff told the Associated Press he expected to hear from the court either later this week or early next week.
Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House seats. No matter which plan is used, Republican Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. and Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows will meet in a consolidated district. The federal judges' plan is thought to favor Mr. Pickering, while the rival plan is believed to favor Mr. Shows.

Sue or buy?
A former contractor testified yesterday that he agreed to forgive a $13,000 debt owed by Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. in exchange for the congressman's promise to help the company.
Testifying at Mr. Traficant's federal bribery and racketeering trial in Cleveland, Anthony Bucci said the bill was for construction performed on Mr. Traficant's horse farm in 1987.
"We were basically going to sue a congressman or, for $13,000, we were going to own him," Mr. Bucci said. He and his brother owned Asphalt Specialists Inc. in the Youngstown area.
Mr. Bucci was convicted in 1992 of fraud in federally funded construction projects and was sentenced to six months in prison. Mr. Traficant successfully lobbied federal officials to have Mr. Bucci moved from a North Carolina prison to a halfway house in Youngstown, Mr. Bucci testified.

Shot in the foot
Democrats are struggling to shake their anti-gun image as midterm elections approach, the Associated Press reports.
In Montana, for example, state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Ream has made it a top priority to get his party back in the good graces of gun owners, many of whom abandoned the party after it wholeheartedly embraced the "Million Mom March" in Washington in the spring of 2000.
At trade shows, in brochures and even in door-to-door visits by candidates in the 2002 election, the Montana Democratic Party is doing what some state parties say must be done to repair the damage resulting from the national party's position in the 2000 election advocating tougher federal gun rules, reporter Bob Anez writes.
"We're going to get clobbered if we don't improve our image," said Mr. Ream, who accused Republicans and the National Rifle Association of falsely characterizing the Democrats' attitude toward guns.
Jennifer Palmieri, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, said the national party is encouraging state parties to follow Montana's lead in trying to reshape voters' views. The chore belongs at the state level where party officials have more credibility, she said.

South Dakota pressure
"The South Dakota state legislature, acting at the instigation of members of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, has passed a resolution in support of congressional legislation to 'completely ban human cloning,'" United Press International reports in its "Capital Comment" column.
"On Thursday, the state Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 32 to 1. On Friday, the state House approved the same language 63 to 4. Supporters intend for the move to place added pressure on South Dakota's two U.S. senators Democrats Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader to vote to oppose cloning and to get Daschle to bring the bill up on the Senate floor for a vote."


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