Monday, March 1, 2004

Virginia lawmakers will be taking out their aggression on a different battlefield tonight. Instead of debating on the House or Senate floor, they’ll be challenging each other to a game of basketball.

Delegate S. Chris Jones, Suffolk Republican, introduced the hoops game on the House floor last week, and invited anyone interested to attend.

Mr. Jones described the game as “a bunch of old guys trying to act like they are 20 years younger than they really are and have more skill than they actually have.”

“But it’s fun,” he said.

Many say the game is a good stress reliever, especially during this hectic session.

Word has it the Republicans have a leg up this year, with freshman Delegate William H. Fralin of Roanoke on their side. Mr. Fralin stands at least 6 feet, 6 inches tall.

The game starts at 7 p.m. in the Franklin Street Gym at 819 W. Franklin St. in Richmond.

• Sweet success

Democrats rallied against the House budget plan last week with cotton candy, calling it a metaphor for the budget.

Immediately after the vote approving the $58 billion plan, the minority-party lawmakers held a news conference denouncing the plan and the effect they predict it will have on education, transportation and public safety.

But in a diversion from standard news-conference fare, the Democrats ate cotton candy.

They explained it thusly in a news release: “After hours of debate and floor speeches, the tasty treat, made of air and sugar with no nutritional value, is an appropriate way to mark the passage of the House Republican budget.”

“It is a budget full of air and sugar, created with lots of spinning, that in the end has no nutritional value,” Delegate Franklin P. Hall, Chesterfield County Democrat and House minority leader, said in a statement.

• White House help

Vice President Dick Cheney raised more than $200,000 for Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s re-election bid on Friday, ignoring differences with the White House that Mr. Bartlett’s primary opponent aims to exploit.

Mr. Cheney, speaking at a breakfast at Hagerstown’s Four Points Hotel, said the six-term Maryland Republican is regarded on Capitol Hill as a “smart, independent and effective public servant.”

“By electing Roscoe, you’ve put a good man in a big job, and he has earned another term in the United States Congress,” Mr. Cheney told 700 cheering contributors who paid $100 to $5,000 apiece to attend.

Mr. Bartlett, one of the most conservative members of the House, has never walked in lockstep with President Bush.

He endorsed Mr. Bush in 2000 only after his first two choices, former Vice President Dan Quayle and publisher Steve Forbes, dropped out.

Mr. Bartlett held out on supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq until all attempts at gaining broader international favor had failed.

He also opposes reauthorizing the Patriot Act, as Mr. Bush has asked Congress to do.

Rather than focus on those issues, Mr. Bartlett, a millionaire scientist, farmer and constitutional scholar, underscored his and Mr. Cheney’s support for tax cuts and gun owners’ rights.

Mr. Bartlett’s opponent in tomorrow’s 6th District Republican primary, Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle, cited Mr. Bartlett’s votes against the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” education initiative and against normal trade relations with China, which the White House supported.

Mr. Rolle, a Bush admirer, said he found it “very telling” that Mr. Bartlett would seek the administration’s help. “I think somebody’s worried about something,” Mr. Rolle said.

• Mom’s persistence

Tara Salmons wouldn’t take no for an answer — and her persistence in fighting for a bill she believes in got a Virginia House of Delegates committee to say yes.

The bill would allow localities to post signs warning motorists of congested areas ahead in instances where yard sales are being held near roads with speed limits above 35 mph.

Miss Salmons is pushing for the bill because her 2-year-old son was run over and killed while she was at a fund-raiser near a busy road in Bath County last year.

The bill originally was struck down by a House committee — but was revived by Delegate Thomas D. Gear, Hampton Republican, after Miss Salmons paid him a visit.

Mr. Gear said the mother’s testimonial swayed him into supporting the legislation.

The bill passed on a 12-8 vote and now goes to the full House for a vote.

It has already passed the Senate.

• What’s in a name?

A federal judge in Greenbelt handed a setback to a congressional candidate from Montgomery County who is upset that his name is being used in the address for a Web site supporting his opponent.

The judge late last week refused to shut down the Web site

Republican Robin Ficker, who is running in tomorrow’s 8th District primary, claimed he ought to have first rights to the name. Instead, a consultant for his primary opponent, Charles Floyd, is using the Web address for a site with unflattering information about Mr. Ficker.

The judge ruled that Mr. Ficker’s claims of harm is outweighed by the possible infringement of his critic’s free-speech rights.

And the judge said he did not believe Mr. Ficker’s name could be preserved for him alone under the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. The law shields commercially significant names from being misappropriated on the Internet, but does not protect personal names.

• Technical knockout

A Virginia legislator’s Black History Month tribute to Muhammad Ali turned contentious Friday when another lawmaker countered that Ali was “a draft dodger and a man of questionable moral character.”

Delegate Onzlee Ware, Roanoke Democrat, asked that the House adjourn for the day in honor of the former world heavyweight boxing champ, praising his courage for refusing induction into the Army in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War.

“Muhammad Ali has inspired millions of people throughout the world to decide to be the very best and has instilled in them hope that a boy from Louisville, Ky., could rise to become the greatest of them all,” Mr. Ware said.

“For me, personally — a black youth growing up in Greensboro, N.C., from a single parent — Muhammad Ali was my hero,” he said.

Delegate Mark L. Cole, Spotsylvania Republican, immediately rose to object.

“Muhammad Ali was a draft dodger and a man of questionable moral character and I do not think he deserves to be honored by this House,” said Mr. Cole, who is white.

House Speaker William J. Howell, visibly surprised by the exchange, allowed the unrecorded voice vote to proceed. It passed, despite a handful of delegates who voted no.

The House and the Senate set aside time at the start of each day’s session for floor statements not necessarily related to the day’s legislation. Motions to adjourn in someone’s honor are routine, and objections are extremely rare.

In 1967, Mr. Ali refused Army induction, citing his Muslim beliefs and saying he had no quarrel with the Viet Cong.

He was stripped of his title and barred from boxing for 3 years.

He was convicted of refusing military induction and sentenced to five years in prison, but remained free on bail until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction on procedural grounds four years later.

He returned to boxing in 1970.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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