- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The blame game

Even with the news that the Bush administration had some warning that al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks, more Americans blame the Clinton administration for the intelligence breakdown prior to September 11.

An Andres-McKenna survey taken earlier this month showed 31 percent of the 1,000 registered voters polled said the Clinton administration was "primarily at fault for that breakdown," while 20 percent said the Bush administration was at fault. Another 12 percent said both administrations were to blame, while more than a third 36 percent refused to blame either.

As for leadership in the war, pollster Mike McKenna said the president still retains a comfortable lead over a hypothetical President Al Gore. Respondents preferred Mr. Bush 64 percent to 19 percent, down from his 76 percent to 15 percent lead in November.

The survey also found that Americans don't seem too worried about giving up rights while fighting the war on terrorism 62 percent were more worried about future attacks, while 20 percent were more troubled by the FBI violating constitutional rights.

Raises raise eyebrows

Rep. Gary A. Condit became a lot more generous in paying his staffers soon after his relationship with Chandra Levy was revealed, Roll Call reports.

Miss Levy's body was found in Rock Creek Park in May, more than a year after she was reported missing. Mr. Condit has been the focus of public attention, even though police have said he is not considered a suspect.

During that year, the congressman nearly doubled the salary of his executive secretary, Jackie Mullen, who works out of the Democratic congressman's Modesto, Calif., office and gave substantial raises to two other staffers. All three were prominent defenders of Mr. Condit.

The paper's Amy Keller wrote that Ms. Mullen made about $43,000 in 1999 and $57,000 in 2000, "but thanks to tremendous leaps in pay she began receiving around the time the Levy controversy exploded, her annual salary for 2001 jumped to about $99,000."

The two others who received raises were Michael Lynch, his chief of staff, and Mike Dayton, an administrative assistant. Mr. Dayton's salary went from $95,000 in 2000 to $115,000 in 2001 based largely on an increase that came in the months after Miss Levy's disappearance.

Mr. Lynch's salary went from $114,400 in 2000 to $127,500 last year. Extrapolating records from the first quarter of this year, Mr. Lynch would have an annual salary of $138,000, making him one of the highest-paid chiefs of staff and putting him near the $145,000 mandated cap on staff salaries.

Taking a stand

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and a possible presidential contender in 2004, said in a long interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would "absolutely" support a federal moratorium on the death penalty until it's determined why three-fourths of those on death row are minorities.

"I believe that America is beginning to question how we have applied the death penalty. I'm proud of my position on it," said Mr. Kerry, a longtime foe of capital punishment. He added:

"I happen to think that life imprisonment is worse than the death penalty. I mean you stick a needle in somebody lying on a table, and they take a drug and pass out. Sure, they are going to miss the rest of their life in prison, but, at the same time, they've been put out of the misery of waking up every single day in the confines of a tiny, little cell, knowing they've lost their freedom."

Righting the ship

California Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon fired back at incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis with his first television ad last week in Spanish.

The ad, which criticized Mr. Davis' record on education, and in which Mr. Simon speaks Spanish, has since been joined by ads in English.

But Frank del Olmo writes in the Los Angeles Times that beginning with a Spanish-language ad was a smart move, given the Republican Party's history with Hispanic voters in the state most notably Proposition 187, championed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, that barred illegal immigrants from schools and other public services. Court rulings have prohibited full enforcement of the measure, passed by California voters in a 1994 referendum.

"The anti-Mexican tone of the campaign for Proposition 187 so frightened immigrant Latinos that thousands of them rushed to become citizens. And once those new citizens started voting, they took vengeance on Republicans who tried to follow in Wilson's footsteps.

"A key reason the GOP is now a weak minority in Sacramento is that it got only 23 percent of the fast-growing Latino vote in the 1998 and 2000 elections, according to the Times poll.

"Thus Simon's ad would be praiseworthy simply for the courage it must have taken the candidate and his advisors to tread onto political terrain that many California Republicans still believe is unfriendly, if not downright dangerous."

Seeing seersucker

Several senators sported seersucker suits Friday to mark the first day of summer. But Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who organized the fashion show, chided Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and potential 2004 presidential candidate, for not taking part.

"I said, 'Joe, that dark, dull suit if you expect to carry Florida, you have to do better than that,'" Mr. Lott said. "'You're going to have to lighten up a little bit.'"

Mr. Lott said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle "was struggling with whether or not he could" wear such a suit. Mr. Lott told the Democrat, "But you're from the South Dakota."

Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, said the definition of "seersucker" is "it's from Sears, and it was sold to a sucker."

Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who avoided seersucker in favor of a khaki-colored jacket and pants, won the prize for sartorial splendor anyway, according to Mr. Lott.

"The problem is, that stuff is not cotton," he said of Mr. Warner's suit. "I would never let anything synthetic touch my body."

Reports of his demise

Joining the ranks of Mark Twain and Paul McCartney, Rep. Jack Kingston found himself denying rumors of his death last week.

The Georgia Republican's office began to field questions Wednesday from news outlets that said a reliable source had tipped them off that Mr. Kingston was dead even though some of those very reporters had just seen Mr. Kingston at an event in Atlanta.

"One story was that he had been in an accident. Another was that he had died. Yet another was that he had done himself in," reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I think it was probably wishful thinking on some people's part," Mr. Kingston said to the paper.

As far as they have been able to piece it together, the folks in Mr. Kingston's congressional office believe someone confused the congressman with Tennessee state Rep. Keith Westmoreland from Kingsport, a Republican who shot and killed himself.

Robyn Ridgley, Mr. Kingston's spokeswoman, said she knew the tip had to be false when reporters asked if her boss had committed suicide, because Mr. Kingston just wouldn't do that. Still, she said, "It was just strange to get a call in the middle of the day from top media 'Your boss knocked himself off.'"

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