Politics 2003Week of November 17


Nikita Khrushchev is said to have observed that the only problem with free elections is that you never know what the outcome will be. With so much focus on the Republican capture of Democratic governorships in Kentucky and Mississippi two weeks ago, there were a number of significant races for lower offices-not to mention voter initiatives of interest to the right-that conservatives nationwide may not have heard the outcome of. Among them. . .

End of Ergonomics: Just as Congress overturned the Clinton Administration’s anti-business “ergonomics” regulations, voters in Washington State on November 4 repealed similar rules enacted by their state legislature. By 53% to 47%, Evergreen State voters ended the law that set limits on employees’ physical activities and slapped harsh fines on employers who violated those rules. Critics had charged that ergonomics was based on “junk science” and would place an unnecessary burden on employers that could lead to layoffs.

No New Spending In Ohio: The anti-big-spending cause proved alive and well in Ohio last week. By a vote of 51% to 49%, Buckeye State voters turned down a $500-million bond issue to recruit academics and assist researchers in moving their products to the marketplace via tax dollars. Known as the Third Frontier Bonding Proposal, the measure was hawked as a part of a larger project at expanding the state’s high-tech research capabilities. Opponents, however, dismissed it as misuse of taxpayers’ dollars at a time the state is strapped for cash.

More from Mississippi: Along with the election of Haley Barbour as governor and the re-election of Amy Tuck as lieutenant governor, Mississippi Republicans swept to victory in two other statewide races: Republican John Reeves was elected state treasurer and State Auditor Phil Bryant was resoundingly re-elected. Magnolia State GOPers also made a net gain of seven seats in the state House of Representatives, making the new line-up 74 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and two independents. The state senate will comprise 29 Democrats and 25 Republicans.

Third Party Takes Manhattan: Of the 51 city councilmanic races decided in New York two weeks ago, there was only one that was a head-turner. For the first time in 25 years, when present Conservative Party State Chairman Mike Long was a councilman, a third-party candidate won a spot in the Big Apple’s legislative chamber. Political newcomer Letitia James, carrying the banner of the recently formed Working Families Party, won the seat of late Democratic Councilman James E. Davis, whose murder by a political opponent last year made national headlines. James defeated the late councilman’s brother, Democrat Geoffrey Davis.

The Last Hurrah-The Next Chapter: In Edwin O’Connor’s timeless epic The Last Hurrah, Frank Skeffington-who began his career in his ’30s as the “boy mayor” of an unnamed city in New England-is now running for one more term in his ’70s. In a dramatic surprise, the old mayor is defeated by a young upstart and suffers a heart attack. But before he finally dies, Skeffington experiences going to his own wake as legions of friends and former foes come to his bed to bid farewell.

In Springfield, Mass., Charles V. Ryan seemed to be Skeffington come to life: Elected mayor at 33 in an upset over then-Mayor and fellow Democrat Tom O’Connor in 1961, Ryan won two more terms and then unsuccessfully tried to take out fellow Rep. (1952-86) Edward Boland in 1966. The fall-out from his challenge to Boland played a role in Ryan’s ouster from City Hall a year later.

But guess what? Two weeks ago-at age 75 and 36 years after he last held office-Ryan roared back into City Hall. Ryan, a father of 11 and grandfather of 33, pulled off the comeback of the year by defeating State Sen. Linda Melconian in a nonpartisan race. Clearly demonstrating that he was still the feisty campaigner of his youth, the man everyone in Springfield calls “Charlie” slammed Melconian as a poor manager following her admission she paid $11,000 in overdue property taxes after announcing her candidacy. Older voters remembered Ryan’s “clean” stint at City Hall, which presented a vivid contrast to the string of federal probes into city corruption that darkened the final years of incumbent Mayor Michael Albano, who decided not to seek a fifth term.


One could hear the collective wails of distress among Republicans from Las Vegas to Washington earlier this year when conservative Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons announced he would not challenge Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid next year. Reelected in ’98 by fewer than 400 votes in the third closest Senate race since popular election of senators began, the extremely partisan Reid has become hostile to George W. Bush to the point of calling the President a “liar” on the Senate floor, Liberal for his sate(lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 21%), Reid appeared vulnerable and the hopes of Republicans from White House political operative Karl Rove (who personally urged Gibbons to run) on down were riding on the four-term House member from Northern Nevada. When Gibbons opted for re-election, there was no GOPer of stature available to make the race and, for a time, it appeared as though the prickly Reid would skate to a third term.

Not so. In recent weeks, Las Vegas businessman and conservative activist Rick Ziser has stepped forward to fill the the Republican vacuum and take on Reid. All evidence at this time indicates that Ziser-who promised to contribute $250,000 from his own pocket to jumpstart the race-will be the lone heavyweight GOPer in the primary. A native of California who has lived in the Silver State since 1990, the 50-year-old Ziser took over his father’s tool and die business and turned it into one of the top 25 new businesses in Nevada. Although he has never held office, Ziser volunteered in the campaign of Nevada’s other senator, John Ensign, and chaired the Coalition for the Defense of Marriage, a citizens group that mobilized tens of thousands of voters to secure passage three years ago of a statewide initiative affirming that marriage is a union between a man and woman. Ziser has also been chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens, a group that lobbies on behalf issues such as gun ownership and property rights.

“And when you have a candidate who has run the largest grass-roots organization in the state in 30 years,” remarked former State Republican Chairman Steve Wark, who is managing the Ziser campaign, “the foundation of his campaign will be built on the grass roots and not media.”

Over lunch with me during a recent trip to Washington, Ziser and Wark spelled out the issues with which they will hammer Reid: abortion (“[Reid] may say he’s pro-life, but when you vote against the Mexico City policy and strict constructionist judges, that’s not pro-life to me”), and the incumbents steadfast opposition to Bush tax cuts (“I’d vote for every one of them and to abolish the capital gains tax, too”), I’m for the President on Iraq and for confirmation of his federal judges, all of which Reid has fought to keep from a vote of the full Senate.

In lining up foursquare with the President against one of his sworn enemies, Ziser nonetheless is on Bush’s right when it comes to spending on government agencies. In his words, “the National Endowment for the Arts funded petty atrocities and I don’t see why we can’t close it down. And then you can move on other things, like the Department of Commerce, once you demonstrate to the public how bad they are.”


Texas Two-Step: Following a hard-fought contest, Houston lawyer Tina Benkiser won the chairmanship of the Texas Republican Party last week. Benkiser won a vote of the State Republican Executive Committee over fellow attorney and party legal counsel Gina Parker of Waco. Most Lone Star State GOPers attribute Benkiser’s victory to an endorsement from outgoing Chairman Susan Weddington. But the race is not truly over: Benkiser will serve the remainder of Weddington’s term until the state convention in June, at which time, she said, she will run for a full two-year term. Parker, however, has not ruled out a challenge then before the full convention. . . Subscriber Moves On: Longtime HUMAN EVENTS subscriber Stephen Zimmerman has just been named head of the Washington, D.C., office of Dykema-Gossett, the second largest law firm in Michigan. Overseeing an office with 28 lawyers and government relations professionals (grps) for a firm with over 285 attorneys in eight major cities, Zimmerman may well be the only attorney in Washington (or anywhere, for that matter) to have a reception room in which the publications that visitors may choose from are HUMAN EVENTS and Rolling Stone.


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