Thursday, March 31, 2005

Roughing it

“The runway’s kind of old, so don’t worry if we hit a pothole.”

Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, just before the plane carrying first lady Laura Bush, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky landed yesterday in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Eat the press’

It might have conservative-turned-liberal pundit Arianna Huffington‘s name attached to it, but we’re told that Matt Drudge sidekick and story contributor Andrew Breitbart is the brains behind the soon-to-start blog, Huffington Report.

“There’s a lot of rumors out there that I cannot confirm or deny,” Mr. Breitbart said yesterday.

Business 2.0 magazine reports that the site will be staffed with a full complement of editors, describing it as a “culture and politics webzine in the classic mold of Salon or Slate.”

“It will have breaking news, a press commentary section called ‘Eat the Press’ and its most interesting innovation, a group blog manned by the cultural and media elite: Sen. Jon Corzine, Larry David, Barry Diller, Tom Freston, David Geffen, Vernon Jordan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Harry Evans and his wife, Tina Brown. That’s just to name a few, and Huffington is still recruiting,” the magazine says.

Miss Huffington’s business partner in the venture: Ken Lerer, former head of AOL Time Warner corporate communications. Look for a start date in April.


We wrote earlier about a newly impaneled bipartisan presidential election reform commission made up of the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, both Democrats, and former White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, a Republican.

Now, an election-reform advocacy group wants Mr. Baker, who served under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, removed as the commission’s co-chairman before the panel gets busy on whatever reform it can accomplish.

Representing about 100 affiliated election-reform organizations, the Velvet Revolution considers Mr. Baker “a partisan political operative and Bush family loyalist” who “will irreconcilably sully the credibility of such a commission and render its findings completely suspect, wholly useless and, regrettably, without merit.”

“Mr. Baker is, in fact, the architect behind the invidious scheme implemented to ensure that the votes of all Americans would not be counted in the unfortunate and undemocratic 2000 presidential election fiasco,” says the group, referring to when the soon-to-be-inaugurated George W. Bush dispatched Mr. Baker to voter-challenged Florida.

Godspeed, judge

It’s with sadness we write about the passing this week of retired three-term Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin, one of the more colorful Democrats on Capitol Hill who, therefore, appeared in this column quite frequently.

We last interviewed the thick-jowled, slow-talking former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when he was back in Washington to celebrate the release of his biography, “Judge in the Senate.”

“My first encounter with Howell Heflin was when he became a member of the U.S. Senate in 1978,” former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole recalled in the biography. “At that time, there were still some ‘Old South’ senators. In his low-key, humorous, storytelling way, Howell influenced these other members of Congress into a more open-minded, progressive mode of thought.

“He defused many volatile situations and helped others to see that the future of this country rested on the fulfillment of ‘all men are created equal.’”

Still, Mr. Heflin vigorously defended the South and its people, particularly Democrats. In this space, he referred to people too sophisticated to be from his state as “Gucci-wearing, Mercedes-driving, Perrier-drinking, Aspen-skiing, richy-rich Republicans who eat broccoli.”

Mr. Heflin, during our 2001 interview, was full of praise for President Bush as he set out to fight a long and difficult war against terrorism.

“But I’m optimistic about the future,” he said. “President Bush and his administration are doing a great job.”

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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