- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Return of a Texan

At least one of the Democratic Texas state senators who went to New Mexico to boycott a special session and block a vote on congressional redistricting spent the Labor Day weekend home in Houston and was considering seeking a way out of the group exile.

“After being in my district for five days, I have concluded my constituents are opposed to redistricting, but they also believe the fight should be on the Senate floor,” Sen. John Whitmire said.

He said he was returning Tuesday to Albuquerque, N.M., where he would “discuss with my colleagues that we need an exit plan and we need it now.”

Mr. Whitmire, the state Senate’s longest-serving member, said his weekend return was not a “bolt from the group,” but a planned departure after the end of the second special legislative session on redistricting, the Associated Press reports.

Although the second special session ended Aug. 26, the Democrats have stayed in New Mexico for fear that they would be arrested and hauled back to the Capitol if Republican Gov. Rick Perry calls another session.

Eleven Democrats stymied a vote on redistricting during the most recent 30-day special session by leaving the state and blocking a quorum on the Senate floor.

A return by just one senator would give the 31-member Senate enough people to conduct business if a third special session is called.

Leaders of the Democratic pack who went to New Mexico insisted last week that the whole group was committed to staying another month.

Ashcroft’s future

Attorney General John Ashcroft says he is unlikely to run for elective office again, and indicated he would like to remain at the Justice Department if President Bush is re-elected.

“I really can’t imagine running another political campaign,” Mr. Ashcroft told USA Today reporter Kevin Johnson. “I don’t have that in mind. I’m getting older.”

Mr. Ashcroft, 61, was elected in Missouri to the posts of state auditor, attorney general, governor and U.S. senator before becoming U.S. attorney general in 2001.

Asked whether he would like to continue at Justice in a Bush second term, Mr. Ashcroft replied: “Any opportunity to serve the country should not be taken lightly. I would take very seriously any request for the opportunity to serve. This is a great privilege. I am deeply indebted to the president of the United States.”

DeLay vs. Dean

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay yesterday condemned the comments of presidential candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for saying “John Ashcroft is not a patriot.”

“Howard Dean is a cruel and extremist demagogue,” Mr. DeLay said in a statement.

During a campaign appearance in New Hampshire last weekend, Mr. Dean said Mr. Ashcroft “is not a patriot.”

“John Ashcroft is a descendant of Joseph McCarthy,” he said, in a reference to the communist-hunting senator of the 1950s.

“John Ashcroft loves America more than Howard Dean could ever know.” Mr. DeLay said. “John Ashcroft has sacrificed for his country, and devoted his life to serving it. He is as kind, generous, and patriotic a man as I’ve ever met. And Howard Dean is as ignorant on John Ashcroft as he is on national security.”

The Texas Republican added: “Howard Dean’s comments are an embarrassment to the democratic process and the Democrat Party. If this cruel, loudmouth extremist is the cream of the Democrat crop, next November’s going to make the 1984 election look like a squeaker.”

Mr. Dean’s communications director, Tricia Enright, fired back, the Associated Press reports.

“The narrow ideological agenda of the DeLay-Ashcroft wing of the Republican Party threatens basic American freedoms that have been enshrined in the Constitution for over 200 years. Those policies are not only extreme, they are cruel,” she said.

Politician to pay up

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry settled a federal lawsuit that accused him of defrauding Medicaid and Medicare programs while he was teaching at the University of Louisville Medical School.

Mr. Henry, a Democrat, agreed yesterday to pay the federal government $162,000 to settle the charges contained in the suit, filed in November.

The settlement includes a fine and the more than $60,000 that Mr. Henry unlawfully billed the government, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisville.

“Through this settlement, we hope to send a message that false claims submitted to Medicaid and Medicare will not be tolerated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Campbell said.

Mr. Henry, an orthopedist who once had aspirations of running for governor, said in Louisville yesterday that he had done nothing criminal, the Associated Press reports.

“There was no finding of criminal misconduct on my part, but the civil complaint has lingered and I cannot sacrifice my family or my health to this dispute over billing records any longer,” he said.

Mr. Henry was accused of billing the health programs for surgeries that he did not supervise. The lawsuit cited 44 separate erroneous billings from October 1996 to February 2001 and sought at least $400,000.

In most of the cited incidents, the lawsuit said Mr. Henry was not present during the surgeries because he was attending political functions.

Mr. Henry, 49, will have spent eight years as lieutenant governor when he leaves office in December. He is married to former Miss America Heather French Henry and had plans to run for governor before the lawsuit was filed.

Waiting for Hillary

“Many of the same pundits who ignored [Howard] Dean’s long-shot candidacy for so long now seem convinced he is leading an unstoppable juggernaut,” John Fund writes at www.OpinionJournal.com.

“‘Right now, Dean is in the driver’s seat. I’m almost ready to say that Dean has the ticket to Boston as the challenger Democrat,’ says pollster John Zogby, whose latest survey shows Mr. Dean leading Sen. [John] Kerry by more than two to one in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state. ‘He is running away with this election if somebody doesn’t stop him,’ says Morton Kondracke of the Fox News Channel.

“This is all twaddle. Mr. Dean hasn’t been seriously tested in debates or had his first campaign crisis. Watch this Thursday’s Democratic debate in New Mexico as all of his rivals gang up on him. Mr. Dean’s problem is that he may have peaked too early. His March performance on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ showed he can wilt and contradict himself when subjected to a constant barrage of criticism. Many of the people who are showing up at Dean fund-raisers aren’t completely sure of why they like him, beyond the fact that they see him as the most vociferously anti-Bush candidate in the race,” Mr. Fund said.

“Michael Wolff, the liberal media columnist for New York magazine, wrote about a Dean fund-raiser he attended recently in Manhattan that was filled with names he knew. ‘Howard Dean was being embraced by my people,’ he wrote. But ‘you had the undercurrent, the ultimate upset scenario, on the back breath of the room. Howard Dean was nothing so much as Gene McCarthy, and everyone here was really waiting for Bobby Kennedy, who, of course, was Hillary. It’s in the air.’”

Jogging his memory

“It may have been wishful thinking when Sen. John Kerry, the 1970s antiwar Vietnam veteran, couldn’t recall helping 1972 Democratic loser George McGovern,” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“Well, thanks to his foes in the Republican Party, we have something that might jog his mind. It’s a brochure from his failed House campaign in 1972. ‘Recently at the request of Sen. George McGovern,’ it says, ‘Kerry campaigned in the Oregon and California primaries.’

“Still, the pander didn’t work: McGovern won the Massachusetts district, while Kerry lost it,” Mr. Bedard said.

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

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