Politics 2005: Week of May 2

Mitt’s Miserable Numbers He has been a hit at recent Republican fund-raising dinners in Missouri, Michigan and South Carolina. His name is almost always mentioned in the top tier of possible presidential candidates and he is still warmly remembered for his role as overseer of the successful 2000 Winter Olympics. But back home in Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney is in terrible political shape. With surveys showing him a loser for re-election next year, the 57-year-old Romney is now increasingly considered likely to forgo a second statehouse bid and simply focus on a full-time race for President in ’08. According to a just-completed poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts, if he ran for re-election, Romney would lose to Tom Reilly, state attorney general and the front-running Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, 44% to 36% statewide. The same survey showed Romney defeating former Assistant U.S. Atty. Gen. for Civil Rights DuVal Patrick, so far the only announced Democratic candidate for governor, by 36% to 27%–unimpressive for a sitting governor against a political newcomer who has never held nor sought elective office before. As to whether Romney deserves another term, the UMass poll showed that 50% of Bay State voters think he does not, compared to just 33% who think he does. What makes these figures particularly noticeable is that Romney has had no major scandals during his stint in the statehouse, sculpted budgets with no tax increases and attracted national press attention for his opposition to court-sanctioned homosexual marriage (although Romney favors civil unions for gay couples). But where his late father, Republican Gov. (1962-69) George Romney of Michigan, was elected and governed in a state about evenly divided between the two major parties, Mitt Romney is trying to govern in a state where Republicans comprise only about 13% of registered voters. Moreover, with Democrats holding more than two-thirds of the seats in both the state Senate and House of Representatives, the Republican governor sometimes appears a mere on-looker when the state Legislature is acting, since everyone knows he can’t successfully veto anything. Last year, for example, when they were optimistic Sen. John Kerry would be elected President, lawmakers removed the governor’s power to appoint a U.S. senator and instead enacted a “snap” election to fill any Senate vacancy. Hence, the attraction for Romney of going “up or out.” John Hainkel, R.I.P. The Louisianan who did perhaps more than any other politician in the state to wed the terms “conservative” and “reformer” died suddenly following a heart ailment on April 14. John J. Hainkel, one of the few men in any state to hold the top offices in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, was 66 years old and in his 37th year as a state legislator. A graduate of Tulane University and its law school, Hainkel won his initial term as state representative from New Orleans as a Democrat in 1967 at age 29. “I remember running up and down Magazine Street yelling ‘John Hainkel won!'” recalled Quinn Hillyer, son of Hainkel’s law school friend and Louisiana’s Republican National Committeeman Haywood Hillyer and now a reporter in Mobile, Ala. “Most of the other kids wanted to know whether Louisiana State University had won in football.” While they shared the same party affiliation, Hainkel had nothing in common with Gov. (1971-79, 1983-87, 1991-95) Edwin Edwards and fought him over everything from ethics to spending. When Republican Dave Treen was elected governor in 1979, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats made Hainkel speaker of the House. But more often than not, he was a “Democrat for” some Republican office-seeker, whether it was Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan for President or Treen for governor. Hainkel was also a strong supporter of then-state Rep. Woody Jenkins, a leading conservative Democrat, in his 1978 and ’80 races for U.S. senator. Like Jenkins, Hainkel eventually changed parties and in 1988 went to the state Senate. As he did in the state House, Sen. Hainkel usually introduced more legislation in each session than any of his colleagues. The lodestars for his legislation were open government, free enterprise and fiscal prudence. In 2003, Senate President Hainkel began running for governor, but abandoned the race in favor of fellow Republican Bobby Jindal (now a U.S. representative) and filed for re-election to the Senate. When I saw Rep. Rodney Alexander (R.-La.) outside the White House April 21, shortly before his meeting with the President on Social Security, he told me how he had just returned from Hainkel’s funeral. While it wasn’t the extravaganza that Huey Long’s funeral was in 1935, Alexander told me, “The crowd was huge. When you did as much as John did, you made a lot of friends.” More Missouri Waltzing On the same day that they scored an upset win in a special election for a state Senate seat that had been in Democratic hands for 46 years, Missouri Republicans also picked up a hitherto Democrat-held seat in the state House. The surprise victory of 28-year-old mortgage broker Ryan Silvey in the 38th District (suburban Kansas City) gives Show Me State GOPers 98 out of 163 seats in the House of Representatives. Silvey, a Bob Jones University graduate and former staffer to U.S. Sen. Kit Bond (R.-Mo.), had lost the November election to Democratic state Rep. Daniel Bishop. But after Bishop’s unexpected death this year, he was given another chance. This time, Silvey faced Theresa Loar, former Kansas City councilwoman and a Republican-turned-Democrat. With the strong endorsement of Bishop’s widow Leslie, Loar ran as a strong opponent to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed cuts in Medicaid and other state services. Silvey, in turn, strongly backed Blunt on cutting services as an alternative to raising taxes. His comfortable election is considered a mandate for Blunt’s conservative agenda. Silvey’s election and the coming fight over the Blunt budget cuts have focused fresh attention on just-elected House Speaker Rod Jetton. A former U.S. Marine who was inspired to enlist by Desert Storm, the 37-year-old Jetton finally saw action himself in the Iraq War two years ago. Jetton is also a protégé of a fellow conservative Republican, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and, in fact, represents Bolinger County, which was settled in the early 19th Century by the ancestors of Kinder and fellow Cape Girardeau son Rush Limbaugh. (Jetton’s predecessor as speaker, conservative Catherine Hanaway, was defeated in a hard-fought race for secretary of state last fall by Democrat Robin Carnahan. Last week, speculation was rampant that the 42-year-old Hanaway will be U.S. attorney for St. Louis). Short Takes Back to the Vineyards: A man who even political enemies concede is one of the canniest political operatives on Capitol Hill is going back to his first love: politics. John Hishta had played the same role for House Government Affairs Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.) since Davis’s days as chairman of the Fairfax County (Va.) Board of Supervisors in the early 1990s that Karl Rove has played for George W. Bush. The man known universally as “Hish,” who also managed Sen. John Warner’s (R.-Va.) last contested re-election in 1996 and was operating head of the National Republican Congressional Committee when Davis was NRCC chairman in 2002, surprised fellow “political junkies” when he took a job with the lobbying firm ACS two years ago. But now Hishta has just signed on with the Mercury Public Affairs political consulting firm as managing director and head of its Washington office. Among the partners in the New York-based Mercury firm is Kieran Mahoney, longtime top political gun for Republican Gov. George Pataki. Buckeye State Blooper: Jane Grimm, longtime HUMAN EVENTS subscriber, was a bit surprised when our recent article on the race to succeed U.S. Trade Representative-designate Rob Portman in the U.S. House identified one of the potential GOP candidates, former state Sen. Jean Schmid, as president of Ohio Right to Life. “I, sir, have served in that capacity since 1988,” Buckeye State resident Grimm told me, adding that Jean Schmid was president of Cincinnati Right-to-Life, but has taken a leave of absence to run in the special election in Ohio’s 1st District. I stand corrected.