- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Strange rules

“The trouble with the Iowa caucuses isn’t that there’s anything wrong with Iowans. It’s the bizarre rules of the process,” columnist John Fund writes at www.OpinionJournal.com.

“Caucuses are touted as authentic neighborhood meetings where voters gather in their precincts and make democracy come alive. In truth, they are anything but,” Mr. Fund says.

“Caucuses occur only at a fixed time at night, so that many people working odd hours can’t participate. They can easily exceed two hours. There are no absentee ballots, which means the process disfranchises the sick, shut-ins and people who are out of town on the day of the caucus. The Democratic caucuses require participants to stand in a corner with other supporters of their candidate. That eliminates the secret ballot.

“There are reasons for all this. The caucuses are run by the state parties, and unlike primary or general elections, aren’t regulated by the government. They were designed as an insiders’ game to attract party activists, donors and political junkies and give them a disproportionate influence in the process. In other words, they are designed not to be overly democratic. Primaries aren’t perfect, but at least they make it fairly easy for everyone to vote, since polls are open all day and it takes only a few minutes to cast a ballot.

“Little wonder that voter turnout for the Iowa caucuses is extremely low — in recent years about 6 percent of registered voters. Many potential voters will proclaim their civic virtue to pollsters and others and say they will show up at the caucus — and then find something else to do Thursday night.”

Fewer debaters

ABC and the Fox News Channel are narrowing the field of presidential candidates invited to debates this weekend just before the New Hampshire primary, in Fox’s case infuriating supporters of Republican Rep. Ron Paul.

The roster of participants for ABC’s back-to-back, prime-time Republican and Democratic debates Saturday in New Hampshire will be determined after results of Thursday’s Iowa caucus become clear.

Fox, meanwhile, has invited five GOP candidates to a forum withmoderator Chris Wallace, scheduled for its mobile studio in New Hampshire on Sunday. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson received invitations, leaving Mr. Paul and Rep. Duncan Hunter on the sidelines.

The network said it had limited space in its studio — a souped-up bus — and that it invited candidates who had received double-digit support in recent polls, the Associated Press reports.

To participate in ABC’s Saturday night debates, Republican and Democratic candidates must meet at least one of three benchmarks: place first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.

ABC’s Charles Gibson is moderating both debates, each 90 minutes long, with a brief intermission between the two.

Gridlock busters

Michael R. Bloomberg plans to attend a bipartisan conference on ending gridlock in Washington, fueling speculation the New York mayor will run for president as an independent.

Mr. Bloomberg will meet with 16 Democrats and Republicans at a conference Monday at the University of Oklahoma that organizers say is an effort to pressure the two parties to start cooperating, Agence France-Presse reports. Mr. Bloomberg is a former Democrat elected mayor of New York as a Republican in 2001 and re-elected in 2005. He became an independent last summer.

“Some of us might well be open to encouraging an independent candidacy if the two parties don’t meet their responsibilities,” university president David L. Boren, a Democrat and former Oklahoma senator, told Newsday.

Mr. Bloomberg “would be one person who should be seriously considered” for that role, he told the newspaper.

He cautioned, however, that the event “is not a Bloomberg-for-president meeting.”

“My own personal choice would be to see the two parties rise to the occasion,” he said. Democrats invited to the event include one-time presidential hopeful Gary Hart, and fellow former Democratic Sens.Sam Nunn of Georgia, Bob Graham of Florida and Charles S. Robb of Virginia.

Republicans expected to attend include former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri and former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

If the leading Republican and Democratic candidates do not formally vow to work in a bipartisan way and focus on the nation’s main challenges, then “I would be among those who would urge Mr. Bloomberg to very seriously consider running for president as an independent,” Mr. Nunn told the New York Times.

Alaskan target

The Alaska state Senate minority sent a letter to Republican Sen. John Cowdery of Anchorage asking him to resign from public office because he has been implicated in the Veco bribery scandal, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“Now that we are approaching the regular session, and with it seeming the majority does not intend to do anything, we felt it was appropriate to say something,” said Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, North Pole Republican.

The Republicans are split into two factions, and those aligned with the Democrats are in the majority, which helps explain why the Senate minority leader, the Senate majority leader and the Senate president are all Republicans.

Mr. Therriault said the letter was hand-delivered to Mr. Cowdery more than a week ago. He said the only other copies went to state Senate President Lyda Green and Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens.

Miss Green said Mr. Cowdery has not been charged with any crime and she said “it is probably very premature” for lawmakers to call for his resignation.

Former Veco Corp. vice president Rick Smith testified in the recent trials of two former state legislators that he bribed Mr. Cowdery. Smith, who has been convicted and is cooperating with federal prosecutors, did not give details.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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