- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Party switcher

Pennsylvania’s state treasurer has switched to the Democratic Party, setting up a run against Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006.

Barbara Hafer, who as a Republican backed Democrat Ed Rendell’s successful bid for the Pennsylvania governorship, announced her switch Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Her defection, which Mrs. Hafer had all but promised while speaking at a political gathering three weeks ago in New York, makes her a top prospect to take on the conservative Mr. Santorum when her eight-year run as treasurer expires in January 2005.

“The governor has talked to me about running against Rick Santorum, but I haven’t made a decision yet,” said Mrs. Hafer, who is pro-choice. “I’ll be meeting with a lot of Democrats over the next few months to see what they think. We’ll see.”

State Republican committee Chairman Alan Novak called news of Mrs. Hafer’s affiliation change “anticlimactic,” United Press International reports.

“Judging by Barbara Hafer’s own actions, she left the GOP about a year-and-a-half ago,” Mr. Novak said.

Bush’s pitch

President Bush cited “angry attacks” by Democrats in an e-mail fund-raising appeal to potential donors yesterday.

“The pace of the presidential campaign is picking up and we will soon know who the Democrat nominee will be,” Mr. Bush wrote to supporters, asking them for a “special contribution of $100 or $50.”

“Whoever wins the nomination will have done so by energizing their party’s left wing with angry attacks,” Mr. Bush wrote.

The e-mail previewed what is likely to be a theme of his re-election campaign: that his Democratic opponents offer only criticism, while Mr. Bush is laying out what he called in the letter an “optimistic, compassionate conservative philosophy.”

The Bush letter hit e-mail inboxes on a day when the president was out of sight on his central Texas ranch. He has made no public remarks or appearances since starting his Christmas vacation at Camp David, Md., on Dec. 22.

Stevens shrugs

Sen. Ted Stevens is as popular as ever at home in Alaska amid criticism in the lower 48 states that he used his political clout to enrich himself and his family, Reuters news service reports.

Bolstered by his home-state support, Alaska’s official “Man of the Century” has rejected calls for his resignation from good-government activists and newspaper editorial writers.

“His response to that question was, ‘If they think I’m going to resign my position as a member of the Appropriations Committee because of a newspaper story, they’re crazy,’” his press secretary, Courtney Schikora, told Reuters.

The Los Angeles Times, in a story this month, cited a $50,000 investment Mr. Stevens made in real estate partnerships with a developer who does business with the Defense Department that grew in value in six years to between $750,000 and $1.5 million.

Watchdog groups, including Citizens Against Government Waste, have called for Mr. Stevens to resign his post as appropriations chairman.

“Apparently, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate thinks he can get away with anything in the pursuit of a plush retirement,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.

But in Alaska, his constituents are brushing off the accusations. There, Mr. Stevens is credited with steering torrents of federal money to his home state, which runs its government with almost no taxes on local residents.

Connecticut summit

Top Democrats in the Connecticut House of Representatives say they want to meet next week with Republican Gov. John G. Rowland before deciding whether to pursue his impeachment.

Mr. Rowland’s chief of staff and spokesman, Dean Pagani, said Mr. Rowland is open to such a meeting, which also would include Republican legislative leaders, the Associated Press reports.

Mr. Rowland has been in trouble since admitting he lied about renovation work done on a lake cottage. Mr. Rowland had insisted he paid for all the work himself, but later admitted that a state contractor, friends and employees — including some being scrutinized as part of a federal investigation — paid for some of the work in the form of gifts.

In calling for a meeting with Mr. Rowland, the Democratic leaders said a “frank discussion” should occur before rank-and-file House Democrats meet Jan. 8 to discuss whether to move against the three-term governor.

Democrats control the Connecticut General Assembly. Under the state constitution, the House is the sole chamber authorized to impeach the governor.

Five Connecticut newspapers, Common Cause of Connecticut, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group and state Democratic Party chairman have called for Mr. Rowland to step down.

Mr. Pagani said Mr. Rowland “has no intention to resign.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating the cottage as part of its probe into suspected bid-rigging within the administration.

“That may be the best path to the truth,” Mr. Pagani said.

Courting Muslims

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat running for president, is courting the Muslim vote in Florida this week.

Mr. Kucinich appeared before Muslim groups in Miami and Tampa on Tuesday urging the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and condemning the Patriot Act, United Press International reports.

“The defining issue for Muslims is the restriction of civil liberties,” Mr. Kucinich said while visiting the Sligh Avenue Mosque in Tampa.

The visit was organized by local members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Tampa Tribune reported yesterday.

War on weight

Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Republican, has launched a campaign to fight obesity, urging residents to halt their junk-food intake, cut television and computer use to two hours maximum daily and to get lots of physical exercise.

“We are seeing a concerning rise in obesity among citizens in this state and nation,” said Mr. Bush, who had asked a Task Force on Obesity comprising 14 cardiologists, nutritionists and researchers to lead a three-month survey on Florida lifestyles.

Their investigation found that obesity rose 63 percent between 1986 and 2002, with 57.4 percent of adults in the state either overweight or obese, Agence France-Presse reports.

Complications of obesity such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes cost Florida taxpayers $38.6 billion in 2001, the Agency for Health Care Administration said.

Ballot measure

Sponsors of an Alaska marijuana-legalization initiative have collected enough signatures to place the measure on the 2004 ballot.

The initiative calls for decriminalizing marijuana for people 21 and older, the Associated Press reports. Sponsors say they expect the initiative to fare better than a more sweeping measure rejected by voters in 2000 that sought to legalize marijuana and provide reparations for some drug convicts.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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