- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cantankerous times

A “political power grab” is said to be under way at historic Ford’s Theatre, orchestrated by theater board member Linda Daschle, lobbyist-wife of former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and involving one of Washington’s more mysterious, if not generous couples.

“For years, the board [leadership] has been carefully kept bipartisan,” an outgoing trustee tells Inside the Beltway. “This is partisan politics, pure and simple.”

Partly for political exposure, the board member insists that Mrs. Daschle has “orchestrated a behind-the-scenes secret slate” of friends, including congressional spouses, to replace the 42-member board’s outgoing chairman, pair of vice chairmen, secretary and treasurer.

Figuring into the controversy are Washington power couple Wayne and Catherine Reynolds, who already have envious tongues wagging in Washington’s social circles with their $100 million-plus in donations to the National Gallery of Art and Kennedy Center, among other recipients.

But not everybody wants the dough. Mrs. Reynolds took back one $38 million contribution to the Smithsonian Institution after the couple was accused in gossip sheets of trying to buy their way to the top of Washington’s A List, if not into personal control of the museums’ exhibits.

Mrs. Daschle is proposing that Mr. Reynolds become the board’s next chairman, the trustee reveals, adding that the Daschles in recent weeks flew aboard the Reynolds’ private jet, which we could not confirm yesterday. Also, says the trustee, the Reynolds’ have already made a $1 million donation to Ford’s Theatre — site of President Lincoln‘s assassination in 1865 — “with promises of more to come.”

Board member Debbie Dingell, wife of Michigan Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell, was pushed by Mrs. Daschle to become secretary, the trustee continues, but for personal reasons withdrew her nomination.

Mrs. Daschle did not return a telephone call to her office early yesterday seeking comment.

Among current board members are Karyn Frist, wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Kathleen Gregg, wife of Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican; Patricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Landra Reid, wife of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; and Kimberly Dorgan, wife of Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

Meanwhile, talk about timing, tickets go on sale Aug. 14 for the Ford’s Theatre production of “State of the Union,” which is about a charismatic candidate being groomed for the presidency during “a politically cantankerous time, eerily similar to our own.”

“Perfect for midterm elections, it’s a wild ride of politics, power and personalities,” touts the theater’s box office.

Godspeed, Phil

“Each time, I have felt the same mixture of inspiration, dedication, determination and appreciation for everything this country has done for me, for my family, and for the cause of freedom and free institutions.”

So said publisher and diplomat Philip Merrill when sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in December 2002. It was the eighth time in his life that he’d taken the oath of office, his first being as a private in the U.S. Army.

Mr. Merrill, 72, is missing and presumed drowned in the Chesapeake Bay. His 41-foot sailboat was found adrift Saturday evening.

Congress rules

Who wants to be president of the United States when you can rise to be speaker of the House?

Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Page Board, made that clear when Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, was bidding fond farewell to the current class of pages.

“I suspect that in the future we will see some of you here as members,” Mr. Davis observed, “and perhaps we will even see one of you sitting in the big chair up in the White House.”

Mr. Shimkus piped in: “I am a legislator, and I believe that the big chair is the speaker’s chair. So I am an Article I guy, not an Article II guy.”

Article I of the Constitution states that all legislative powers shall be vested in the Congress. Article II reads that the executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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