Politics

Politics 2003Week of January 13

THE OPEN HOUSE SEAT THAT WASN’T (YET)

It apparently started with a report from United Press International on Thursday, January 2, that Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R.-Wash.) had decided to accept a lucrative offer ($700,000 a year plus full expenses) to head up the Air Transport Association. This would necessitate her resignation from Congress after 14 years and require a special election to fill the seat. That evening and the following morning, speculation was rampant in Washington State and Washington, D.C., about who would run to succeed Dunn (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89%) in the strongly Republican, Seattle-based 8th District.

But it was all in vain. As other publications picked up the UPI report, the 61-year-old congresswoman whom many colleagues good-naturedly refer to as "Kim Novak" (because of Dunn’s strong resemblance to the star of Picnic) released a statement saying she wasn’t going anywhere, that she would not resign from the House to become a lobbyist. So the ambitions of several wannabe U.S. congressmen are on hold-at least for now.

Coming on the heels of the reports Dunn was resigning were news stories that President Bush and White House political operative Karl Rove were booming her to take on left-wing Democratic Sen. Patty Murray next year. Murray (lifetime ACU rating: 1%), who has won both of her terms with less than 53% of the vote, is widely perceived as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up next year-in part, because of her recent, bizarre remarks in praise of Osama bin Laden. (See HUMAN EVENTS "Capital Briefs" last week.)

Washington State GOP Chairman Chris Vance said of Dunn-who gave up the House leadership position of GOP Conference vice chairman to run unsuccessfully for majority leader in 1998 and was one of Bush’s earliest boosters for President-"the White House is all over her" to run against Murray.

Should Dunn make the Senate race, all of the GOP hopefuls who were touted for her seat in the event she took the Air Transport job would almost certainly be factors in the House primary. The early front-runner would be conservative TV commentator John Carlson, who was the Republican nominee for governor three years ago. Formerly executive director of the state Republican Party and head of the conservative Washington Institute, Carlson has a fervent Seattle-area army of fans of his regular broadcasts and radio talk show. (He also has history on his side. The Evergreen State has a fondness for electing broadcasters to the House. From 1984-92, three of the eight U.S. representatives from Washington State were former television newscasters.)

Another conservative, State Sen. Pam Roach, who lost the ’88 nomination to Dunn, is also widely mentioned as a candidate in the event of a vacancy. Other Republican possibilities include State Sen. Dino Rossi and King County Councilman Rob McKenna, both also conservatives with appeal to the business community in the Bellevue portion of the district.

SHORT TAKES

Trailblazers Lose: Largely overlooked in the dramatic election results last fall was the defeat of two conservative trailblazers in bids for the state senate in their respective states. Manchester (Ga.) attorney Tyron Elliott, a 1982 U.S. House nominee and one of the early movers and shakers in the fledgling Georgia Republican Party, failed in his bid to oust the Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. George Hooks. In Oregon, State Rep. Bill Witt, Pat Buchanan Republican and loser of two tight races for Congress in 1994 and ’96, was beaten in a state senate race in Portland. . .

Help From Uncle Fultie: When his Emmy-winning television program Life Is Worth Living beat Milton (Mr. Television) Berle’s program in the ratings, Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was proclaimed by TV critics as "Uncle Fultie." Now Fulton J. Sheen has a new title: state representative from Michigan. Elected and just sworn in as the new Republican legislator in the Water Wonderland was Fulton J. Sheen, Allegon County treasurer and grandnephew of the legendary cleric. Although having a famous name has certainly not hurt politician Sheen, he also has a substantive record of his own as the cost-cutting county treasurer and an active member of the local and state Right to Life movements. . .

Comeback Time: Elsewhere in Michigan, two durable Republicans made successful political comebacks. Conservative former State Sen. Norm Shinkle, out of office for 12 years, was elected Ingham County (Lansing) Republican chairman. Also, former Republican Rep. (1984-90), 1990 U.S. Senate nominee, and current State Sen. Bill Schuette won a seat on the state court of appeals. Last year, the 50-year-old Schuette (lifetime ACU rating: 79%) pondered bids for governor and attorney general before deciding on the judicial race. . .

"Thank God for Mississippi": The phrase once used by other states with low school test scores or economic statistics in gratitude that Mississippi was lower could well become the cry of Republicans nationally for other reasons. Only weeks after Democratic Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck switched to the Republican Party, Democratic State Sen. Terry Burton has just announced that he is also changing parties. Former Newton, Miss., Mayor Burton cited philosophical reasons for his switch, which now gives the Magnolia State GOP 21 senate seats to 31 for Democrats. Races for governor, all other statewide offices, and the legislature will be held this fall. . .

Case Closed: The first special U.S. House race of 2003 was held last week and, to no one’s surprise, Democrat Ed Case was a runaway winner in the contest to succeed the late Democratic Rep. (1964-76, 1990-2002) Patsy Mink in Hawaii’s 1st District. Case, who lost the Democratic primary for governor last year and is a cousin of AOL Chairman Steve Case, had won a by-election last month to fill out the term of Mink, who died in September. In the more recent contest to choose a new House member for two years, Case topped a field of 43 candidates of several parties with 44% of the vote.

EDWIN MECHEM, R.I.P.

Although he was one of a very select group of Americans to hold top positions in all three branches of government-he was a governor. U.S. senator and then a federal judge-Edwin Leard Mechem of New Mexico was also well known to conservative activists in Washington because of their campaign over three decades ago to put a key Cabinet department in conservative. That’s what many older hands on the right recalled to me when they learned that Mechem had died at 90 of congestive heart failure November 27.

Following Richard Nixon’s election as President in 1968, conservatives were alarmed that he was about to name moderate Republican Rep. (1962-71) Rogers C. B. Morton (Md.) as secretary of the Interior. Western State lawmakers began mobilizing behind Mechem as their alternative. Paul Weyrich of Coalitions for America, then press secretary to Sen. (1954-72) Gordon Allott (R.-Colo.), recalled how his boss telephoned Nixon at the Pierre Hotel in New York, bluntly told him Morton was unacceptable, and pushed Mechem for Interior. Not wanting to disappoint the right but obviously fearing the wrath of the environmental lobby if he named Mechem, the President-elect tapped a lesser-known Westerner, Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel, for Interior. (Morton eventually got the post in 1970, when Hickel was fired.)

A graduate of the University of Arkansas Law School, Mechem worked as both a lawyer and a land surveyor before serving as an FBI agent from 1942-45. A year later, he won a seat in the New Mexico House of Delegates and, in 1950, unseated Democratic incumbent John Miles to become the first Republican governor of the state in 20 years. He was re-elected to another two-year term in 1952, unseated in ’54, returned to the governorship in ’56 only to lose again in 1958. But the indomitable man everyone called "Big Ed" bounced back to win the office a fourth time in 1960.

When veteran Democratic Sen. (1935-62) Dennis Chavez died in 1962, Mechem appointed himself to the vacancy. The self-appointment, almost always a political "killer," was no doubt a factor in his defeat for a full term two years later at the hands of Democrat Joseph Montoya. But Mechem may also have been damaged by being one of only six Republican senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Conservatives were disappointed that Ed Mechem did not become secretary of the Interior in 1969, but heartened a year later when Nixon named him U.S. District Court judge.


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