- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

The National Governors Association narrowly avoided breaking apart at its annual winter meeting earlier this week, and now its senior staff is dodging questions.

Some Republican governors declined to pay their NGA dues as high as $166,000 for populous states while others threatened to drop out completely in protest over what they said was the dominance of the organization by its left-wing staff.

The threatened exodus of Republican governors was averted after Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the NGA vice chairman, made a plea to fellow Republican governors to stay with the organization and give him a chance to get control of the staff when he succeeds Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat, as chairman later this year.

But Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a conservative Republican, said he will call for a performance review of NGA Executive Director Ray Scheppach after the NGA proposed a policy statement critical of President Bush's economic policies, including his tax-cut proposals.

Mr. Scheppach, however, declined to be interviewed by The Washington Times about Republican governors' charges that he and NGA chief congressional lobbyist Frank Shafroth are responsible for an overall liberal Democratic tilt to the organization, even though 26 of its 50 governors are Republicans.

Mr. Owens and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another conservative Republican, privately called for the firing of Mr. Scheppach and Mr. Shafroth, several gubernatorial sources confided.

These sources also said the Bush administration had wanted both men fired, but a senior presidential aide yesterday denied White House involvement in NGA matters.

Mr. Owens said he will ask for a list of the NGA staff and the salaries they are paid. The staff salaries are paid in large part by tax dollars that the 50 states are assessed in the form of membership dues.

"The NGA staff tend to do what they want to do," said Sean Duffy, Mr. Owens' communications director.

A senior NGA staff member speaking on the condition of anonymity denied that the staff leaned leftward and said Republican governors were making a scapegoat of Mr. Scheppach.

Asked for a list of staff salaries and whether Mr. Scheppach, in particular, was being made a fall guy, NGA Communications Director Christine LaPaille first asked not to be quoted then did not return repeated telephone calls and e-mailed questions over the last three days.

Several gubernatorial aides say the liberal views of Mr. Scheppach and Mr. Shafroth, along with other unnamed staff members, have put the NGA on a pro-Democratic policy course, even though Republicans long have been in the majority in the NGA. As recently as 1998, 32 of the nation's governors were Republicans.

After a public brouhaha over a proposed statement condemning the Bush administration's economic policies, the NGA executive board eventually killed the statement. But some gubernatorial aides agree privately that the question that remains unanswered is how the NGA executive committee made up of five Republican governors and four Democratic governors could have approved such a partisan draft statement in the first place.

Some aides say that, in formulating NGA policy, Washington representatives of Democratic governors tend to be more aggressive than their Republican counterparts.

Gary Smith, Washington representative of Mr. Kempthorne, acknowledged that the statement "was drafted in the full executive board meeting, with all nine governors' representatives present."

Mr. Smith said the resolution was completed and voted on "three or four weeks ago. We probably had gone through about six meetings as this developed. NGA is a consensus organization."

The five Republicans on the NGA executive committee are Mr. Kempthorne, Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida's Mr. Bush and Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland.

The Democratic members are Kentucky's Mr. Patton, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

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