Upgrade in ‘Rocky Country’ The line-up of early speakers at the Republican Convention predictably gives prominent spots to the hosts: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. George Pataki, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani–Rockefeller Republicans all. The ghost of the late four-term governor and bete noire of the right a generation ago doesn’t haunt the Empire State GOP, but is its patron saint. Pataki, Bloomberg, and Giuliani differ little from Rocky on economic or cultural issues, and Republican legislative leaders in Albany have by and large gone along with liberal measures involving gun control, domestic partnerships, and increasing the size of government. Possibly the most compelling evidence that Rockefeller Republicanism thrives in New York lies in the figures from the Public Policy Institute showing that state and local taxes averaged $4,645 for every resident for Fiscal Year 2002–the highest such figure in the nation and 48% higher than the national average of $3,149 per person. In addition, Mayor Bloomberg has imposed huge cigarette, property, income and sales tax hikes on Gotham residents. So that is why it’s genuinely refreshing for the right to find Monroe County Legislator Mark Assini, a stalwart conservative, in the lead for the Republican nomination to Congress in the 29th District (Western New York) over moderate-to-liberal State Sen. John (Randy) Kuhl, Jr. Assini’s position as front-runner in the September 14 primary is particularly dramatic because the 61-year-old Kuhl is the hand-picked heir of retiring liberal Rep. Amo Houghton, the only former head of a Fortune 500 company (Corning) to serve in the House and the epitome of a Rockefeller Republican. At 77 and after 18 years in Congress, Houghton (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 54%) has opposed the Bush tax cuts, was one of a handful of die-hard GOP votes against a ban on partial-birth abortion, and opposed U.S. action in Iraq. The son of Dwight Eisenhower’s ambassador to France, Houghton helped launch the French Congressional Caucus to help explain France’s position on Iraq. Houghton has also sought to recruit Bush-hating billionaire George Soros for the Main Street Partnership, which supports moderate Republicans for the House. The outgoing congressman, according to Lawrence Hovish of the Hornell (N.Y.) Evening Tribune, has voiced his worries about the Republican Party’s being “taken over by the Texans”–an obvious slap at Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) “He’s Mr. Pitt on “Seinfeld!” is how Assini, deputy majority leader of his county legislature, characterized Houghton, against whom he had planned to run until the congressman announced April 6 that he was calling it quits and would endorse Kuhl. In addition to his association with Houghton, Kuhl is pilloried by Assini for his vote for mandated abortion coverage for religious hospitals in ’02 and his 100% perfect score from the state AFL-CIO for five legislative sessions. In addition, Assini told me, “My opponent is a most dysfunctional legislator. In its session this year, the legislature had some of it most critical votes–for state homeland security, to raise the minimum wage and to change pension contribution deadlines for local governments. He missed them all.” Kuhl responded that “I had commitments” and accused Assini of negative campaigning. Assini, in turn, maintains that there is nothing negative about contrasting his record as a county legislator with Kohl’s as a senator; that he has helped keep county property taxes at the same rate they were in 1993, sponsored term limits legislation and a partial-birth abortion ban for companies that do business with Monroe County, and sculpted a proposal to create a foreign trade zone across Western New York to encourage fresh manufacturing. Assini’s strong personal following helped him win the endorsement of his home county’s Republican committee over three fellow candidates from Monroe County, who all subsequently dropped out of the race. Moreover, with the strong support of State Chairman Mike Long, Assini unanimously won the coveted fourth ballot line of the New York State Conservative Party. In more cases than not, Republicans triumph in November when their candidates are also drawing votes on the Conservative line–something that will happen only if Assini and not Kuhl is the GOP nominee in the 29th. (Assini for Congress, PO. Box 1008, Pittsford, N. Y. 14534; 585-385-8682 massini@assiniforcongress) Tar Heel Tie-Up Many political eyes watching the Republican run-offs for Congress in North Carolina two weeks ago focused especially on the incendiary 5th District, where incumbent Richard Burr is leaving to run for the Senate. Soft-spoken conservative State Sen. Virginia Foxx won by a 3-to-2 margin over Winston-Salem City Councilman Vernon Robinson, an “in-your-face” black conservative whose unapologetic advocacy of securing the borders, making English the official language, and opposing gun control and the gay agenda was stylistically reminiscent of former Rep. (1976-82, 1984-96) Robert Dornan (R-Calif.)). Although the 61-year-old Foxx was quieter, her positions differed on relatively little from those of Robinson, who conceded graciously and promptly sent a check to his triumphant rival. But another big story took place in the 10th District being vacated by Republican Rep. Cass Ballenger. In a photo-finish, State Rep. Patrick McHenry apparently edged out Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman by a microscopic 128 votes. However, Huffman–who held a small lead initially before provisional ballots were counted–demanded a recount in spite of McHenry’s certification as nominee by the secretary of state. Irked by what he considered Huffman’s heavy-handed attacks on the candidate he originally supported, businessman and fourth-place primary finisher Sandy Lyons, the popular Ballenger backed McHenry in the run-off. Lyons also weighed in for the 28-year-old legislator, who was considered more conservative than Ballenger (lifetime ACU rating: 77%) and had the early support of the Conservative Victory Fund, America’s oldest conservative political action committee. SHORT TAKES “Upgrade” in Pennsylvania’s 8th? Just as Mark Assini’s succeeding Amo Houghton in New York’s 29th District and Patrick McHenry’s following Cass Ballenger in North Carolina’s 10th District would mean genuine net gains for conservatives in Congress, developments in Pennsylvania’s 8th District portend a similar upgrade. With liberal GOP Rep. James Greenwood resigning his House seat to accept the presidency of the high-tech Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)–complete with an estimated $800,000 annual salary and generous expense account–a 127-member committee representing the entire district (all of Bucks County, plus parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia) nominated conservative Bucks County Commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick to succeed him. The 41-year-old Fitzpatrick is pro-life, a strong 2nd Amendment supporter, and an opponent of special rights for homosexuals–all of which issues Greenwood (lifetime ACU rating: 59%) took opposite stands on. In announcing his retirement from Congress, Greenwood had hinted that his favorite to replace him was friend and fellow liberal, State Sen. Joe Conti. But when Bucks County GOP boss Harry Fawkes signaled that Fitzpatrick was his man, Conti quit the race and Fitzpatrick’s nomination was unanimous. Fitzpatrick is now a strong favorite over Democrat Ginny Schrader in November. Scalise Non, Jindal Oui: The race to replace Republican Rep., now U.S. Senate candidate, David Vitter in Louisiana’s 1st District (Metairie-New Orleans) was apparently decided last week. Veteran State Rep. Steve Scalise, who has long planned a bid for Congress when and if Vitter moved on, suddenly announced his exodus from the “jungle primary” in November (in which candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot and, if no one secures a majority, , a run-off between the top two-vote-getters will be held in December.) Scalise departed rather than face the other conservative Republican candidate: Bobby Jindal, former assistant secretary of health and human services in Washington and near-successful candidate for governor last November. After losing that race, the 33-year-old Jindal, son of Indian parents, moved to the 1st District and declared for Congress. Given his name recognition and strong sympathy because of his heart-breakingly close statewide race, Jindal promptly locked up major donors and endorsements. With Scalise out, Jindal seems a cinch to win the district outright in October.