- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Steele the man …

The Republican Party's newest rising star has to be Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

Newly inaugurated, Steele may be the first black Republican to hold statewide office in The Free State but he is also one of a growing number of blacks running for and winning elective office as candidates of the GOP. At a Super Bowl Party held Sunday in his honor at Stacks, a new Washington kosher delicatessen, some prominent Republicans — and a couple of prominent Maryland Democrats whose names would be a surprise to at least a few people in Annapolis — were buzzing about where he could go next.

One idea is that Steele, an ardent Catholic, will mount a challenge to Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski if she runs for re-election in 2004. A number of state and national GOP analysts think Steele would cut into Mikulski's support in Baltimore City while winning just about every other county in the state. Others think Steele has his eyes set on winning the governor's mansion in eight years — which is why a boomlet is going up for Wayne Curry, the black Democrat who just stepped down as Prince George's County executive, to change parties and run against Mikulski as a Republican. Insiders say Curry is at least listening to the overtures.

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In?

Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is getting ready to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2004. Burr, who represents the second most Republican congressional seat in the state, is likely to toss his hat into the ring in early February and announce for the seat currently held by Democrat John Edwards, who is, at the moment, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. This Senate seat has changed hands in every election since 1976 — with the GOP winning it in presidential years and losing it in the out years. No word yet on whom the Democrats will put up — though there is an increasing sense that Edwards, if he tries to get back into the Senate race because he fares poorly in the presidential contests, will not have a free ride.

The early favorite to replace Burr in the U.S. House looks to be Vernon Robinson, a black Republican alderman from the city of Winston-Salem. Robinson developed a national following when he ran for state school superintendent in 1992 and again in 1996 on an education reform platform that aggressively promoted helping parents choose the schools their children attended.

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A career is Hatched …

Freshmen senators are not often given the responsibility of chairing important subcommittees; there just aren't enough to go around in a place where seniority is the paramount consideration in making assignments. When it does happen, it's news.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says that the gavel on the subcommittee on the U.S. Constitution is being handed over to the new U.S. senator from Texas, John Cornyn, a former Texas state Supreme Court justice and state attorney general. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over proposed amendments to the Constitution, enforcement of civil rights, property rights issues, federalism and interstate compacts.

"Leading this subcommittee will allow me to have an even greater voice on the important balance between homeland security and individual freedoms in the fight against terror," Cornyn said.

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Budget backlog …

Congress has still not finished with the 2003 spending bills and pressure is mounting to get them over and done with. The agency-by-agency, department-by-department approach has been replaced with omnibus spending bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — that must still be sent to a joint House-Senate conference committee.

The House bill spends significantly less money than the Senate's does, not a surprise but nevertheless a reason to believe that negotiations over the conference report may be a bit protracted. There is considerable speculation that the whole thing could be finished by Feb. 3 — something insiders familiar with the workings of the budget process privately scoff at. They expect it to drag out for a lot longer.

The only hope for a quick resolution is for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska and new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to announce that the Senate was accepting the House version of the bill, ending the need for a conference. But the chances of that, well let's just say it will be a cold day somewhere other than Alaska before that happens.

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Fight crime. Don't shoot back …

A new study that will appear as part of a chapter in a forthcoming publication from the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think tank, asserts that residences in neighborhoods with higher rates of gun ownership may stand a greater risk of being burglarized.

Duke University's Philip J. Cook and Georgetown University's Jens Ludwig conducted the study, Do Guns Deter Burglars?, based on data gathered while the two were Census Bureau research associates at the Triangle Census Research Data Center. According to the study, a 10 percent increase in a county's gun ownership rate is associated with a 3 percent to 7 percent increase in the likelihood that a home will be burglarized.

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