- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Davis vote official

California officials announced yesterday that the drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis has succeeded, as expected, in getting enough signatures to put the issue to a statewide vote.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said in a news conference last night that counties reported 1.3 million valid petition signatures, well more than the 897,158 required for the recall to make it on the ballot.

Mr. Davis has seen his popularity plunge in recent months amid California’s $38 billion budget deficit, its energy crisis and its slumping economy. He branded the Republican-led drive to oust him “a hostile takeover by the right” and said he will fight and win.

“In a strange way, this has got my juices flowing,” he told the Associated Press in an interview earlier yesterday. “I’m a fighter.”

The only declared major-party candidate so far is Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and a major financial backer of the recall drive. The state’s Democratic officeholders have closed ranks behind Mr. Davis and say they will not run.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was expected today to set a date, possibly as early as Sept. 23.

The ballot would have two parts: The first section would ask people to vote on whether to recall Mr. Davis and the second would provide a list of candidates to choose from in the event he is recalled.

Politics charge

A member of the joint congressional inquiry into the September 11 attacks has accused President Bush of the “manipulation of intelligence” and deliberately stonewalling the panel in order to scare the country into war against Saddam Hussein.

The panel releases its report today and will conclude that Iraq played no role in the attacks by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist group, but former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, told United Press International that the administration sabotaged the report to ensure that it could not undercut its case for war.

“The reason this report was delayed for so long — deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created — is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over … before [it] came out,” he said.

The committee completed its work at the end of last year, publication of the report has been delayed by wrangles with the administration over which parts could be declassified.

“Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration,” said Mr. Cleland, against whom Mr. Bush campaigned last fall.

Mr. Cleland confirmed to UPI’s Shaun Waterman that the report by the panel, which includes members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, will show that there was no link between Iraq and the September 11 attacks.

“The administration sold the connection [between Iraq and al Qaeda] to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war,” Mr. Cleland said. “What you’ve seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends.”

Texas update

Despite opposition from Democrats, a Texas state Senate committee yesterday approved a bill to redraw congressional districts that are likely to give state Republicans an advantage in Washington.

The Senate Jurisprudence Committee passed the measure on a 4-3 vote that fell along party lines, the Associated Press reports.

The new map appears as if it could give Texas Republicans as many as 22 seats in Congress, compared with 10 seats for Democrats. The delegation is now split 17-15.

Gov. Rick Perry convened a special session after House Democrats fled the state during the regular legislative session in May to break quorum and effectively kill the redistricting bill.

Dean’s reaction

Presidential candidate Howard Dean, a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, shrugged off the deaths of Saddam Hussein’s two sons Tuesday, saying “the ends do not justify the means.” He scolded Democratic rivals for backing the conflict, the Associated Press reports.

“Why is it that those in Congress have waited until now to question the intelligence, to question the lack of postwar planning, to question the skyrocketing costs of this war?” Mr. Dean said. “Why were they not asking these questions and seeking the truth nine months ago, before they voted to give the president blank-check authority to go to war?”

Four of the Democratic candidates — Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri — had backed the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Only Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio voted against it last fall.

Questioned about the deaths of Saddam’s sons, Mr. Dean dismissed suggestions that it was a victory for the Bush administration.

“It’s a victory for the Iraqi people … but it doesn’t have any effect on whether we should or shouldn’t have had a war,” Mr. Dean said. “I think in general the ends do not justify the means.”

Clinton defends Bush

President Bush’s disputed reference to an Iraq-Africa uranium link was understandable, former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday, in part because Saddam Hussein’s regime had not accounted for some weapons by the time Mr. Clinton ended his term in 2001.

Mr. Clinton’s comments reinforce one of the pillars of Mr. Bush’s defense of the war in Iraq — that his Democratic predecessor was never satisfied that Saddam had rid himself of weapons of mass destruction.

“When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for,” Mr. Clinton said on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president,” Mr. Clinton said. “I mean, you can’t make as many calls as you have to without messing up once in a while. The thing we ought to be focused on is, what is the right thing to do now.”

Mr. Clinton said ending tensions in Iraq should be the priority now — another echo of the current White House’s talking points, the Associated Press reports. “We should be pulling for America on this. We should be pulling for the people of Iraq.”

The winner

Incumbent Mike Snow on Tuesday narrowly won the third election since November for the same seat in the Georgia legislature.

Mr. Snow, a Democrat, and Republican Jay Neal, a preacher who also drives a courier route, had split the previous two elections. Irregularities forced officials to invalidate those elections.

Mr. Snow won on Tuesday by 80 votes — 3,542 to 3,462 — for the 1st House District in northwest Georgia, said Walker County election officials.

Rural Walker County became an important battleground for control of the state legislature, even prompting Republican Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue to travel here and campaign for Mr. Neal, the Associated Press reports.

Conservative choice

Former Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader Editorial Page Editor Richard Lessner has signed on as executive director of the American Conservative Union.

Mr. Lessner, 53, also served for eight years as deputy editorial-page editor of the Arizona Republic.

His most recent job was executive director of American Renewal, the legislative-action arm of the Family Research Council.

Before deciding to hire Mr. Lessner, ACU Chairman David A. Keene sounded him out on policy ideas and management techniques during a fishing trip down the Potomac two weeks ago.

“I decided he has a grasp of the economic, social and defense issues that make up the three legs of the conservative movement,” Mr. Keene said. “He understands where the conservative movement comes from and where it needs to go.”

Mr. Lessner holds a Ph.D. in religious studies and American history from Baylor University.

The ACU contends it is the nation’s oldest, conservative grass-roots lobbying organization.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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