Politics 2005: Week of September 5

‘No Goes’

In recent weeks, several Republican notables—three sitting U.S. representatives and one former House member—who had been considered likely candidates for statewide office next year chose to stay where they are.

Senate Primary Not ‘Scarborough Country’: Assessing the ’06 Republican primary in Florida to choose a candidate against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker recently said: “Republicans are practically offering coupons and cash rewards to anyone who will run against Katherine Harris in the primary.” She was referring to the much-reported fears of state and national Republicans (who always remain anonymous) that two-term Rep. Harris (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 90%) would so arouse Democrats nationwide who recall her role as secretary of state in delivering Florida’s electoral votes to George W. Bush five years ago that Nelson would definitely be reelected and that a Democrat would win the governorship. (Incumbent Jeb Bush is termed out in ’06.)

But so far, there are no takers of a race against Harris. The latest Republican to say “thanks but no thanks” to overtures that he run for the Senate is conservative former Rep. (1994-2001) and TV commentator Joe Scarborough. The former Panhandle-area congressman cited his desire to spend time with his two children and continue his work with his MSNBC cable TV public affairs program, “Scarborough Country.”

Not ‘Miller Time’ in Michigan: Rep. Candice Miller (R.-Mich.) ended months of speculation by announcing she would not seek the GOP nod for governor next year. As a former two-term secretary of state (and winner of re-election in 1998 by carrying every county in Michigan), Macomb County’s Miller (lifetime ACU rating: 86%) was considered a strong candidate against Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but the congresswoman instead decided to seek a third term in the House.

Miller’s decision makes it almost certain that Water Wonderland Republicans will nominate Richard DeVos, Jr., Amway heir and leader of the statewide movement for school vouchers, to oppose Granholm next year.

Moran Won’t Move: Although pundits and pols throughout Kansas almost universally expected GOP Rep. Jerry Moran to run for governor next year, the five-term House member announced he would stay where he is. Moran (lifetime ACU rating: 92%) had reportedly been strongly urged by Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) to take on Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, because the senator is said to believe the election of a GOP governor would boost his all-but-announced bid for President in 2008. With Moran out, Sunflower State Republicans are now hard-pressed to come up with a top-tier candidate against Sebelius.

In opting for re-election, however, Moran spared Republicans in the 1st District (a seat formerly held by Bob Dole and current GOP Sen. Pat Roberts) what was sure to be a crowded primary to succeed him. One candidate, conservative state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, had already set up a campaign committee and had begun raising funds for a House race in the event Moran ran for governor.

LaHood Leaves Governor’s Race: After nearly eight months traveling around Illinois exploring a bid for governor next year, Rep. Ray LaHood announced he would run again for his Peoria-based seat rather than going statewide. Moderate GOPer LaHood (lifetime ACU rating: 74%), well-known to C-SPAN viewers for his frequent stints as presiding officer of the House, felt he could accomplish more in his current office.

Even while LaHood was in the race, three heavyweight Republicans were actively vying for the gubernatorial nomination, which will be decided in a primary next March. Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, battered by scandals within his administration and news stories about his feud with his father-in-law (powerful Chicago Alderman and ward boss Richard Mell), is considered very vulnerable in ’06.

Richard Kelly, R.I.P.

It was not surprising that all of the obituaries of former Rep. (1974-80) Richard Kelly (R.-Fla.) last week focused on his being the lone Republican of the seven members of Congress caught in the FBI-orchestrated ABSCAM “sting” operation of 1980. Using FBI agents posing as wealthy Arabs who offered bribes to the lawmakers and filmed them closing the deal, ABSCAM destroyed their careers: All seven were convicted of bribery, three lost re-election bids before their conviction, three more resigned, and Rep. (1976-80) Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D.-Pa.) became the first House member expelled since the Civil War.

Kelly, who died August 22 at age 81, was filmed stuffing his pockets with $25,000 in cash from the dummy “Abdul Enterprises” and asking the ersatz Arabs “does it show?” For the rest of his life, he claimed he took the money because he was conducting his own investigation. Convicted in January 1981, he initially won a reprieve when U.S. District Judge William Bryant not only threw out the jury verdict but denounced the FBI for bringing “about the downfall of a person who, if left alone, might well have lived out his life as a law-abiding citizen.” A U.S. Appeals Court reinstated the conviction and Kelly spent 13 months at the federal prison camp at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida.

Sadly, the Republican known universally as “Judge Kelly” from his tenure on the circuit court bench in Florida had been a person of accomplishment prior to his brush with corruption. Kelly (lifetime ACU rating: 95%) was a well-known success story in the Republican rise in the South.

A foster child who had been abandoned by his natural parents, Kelly served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Following his discharge, he completed high school at the age of 22 and graduated from Colorado State College and the University of Florida College of Law.

Following stints as city attorney of Zephyrhills, Fla., and as an assistant U.S. attorney, Kelly won election in 1960 as circuit court judge in Pasco and Pinellas counties—a major coup for a Republican in heavily Democratic Florida of that time. From the bench, he frequently clashed with other judges and the powerful Democratic lawyers. Surviving an impeachment attempt by the Florida House in 1963 and an investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission in 1968, Kelly occupied his judicial perch for 14 years.

When one-term Rep. Bill Gunter (D.-Fla.) left his House seat in 1974 to run for the Senate, Kelly parlayed his reputation as an unpredictable maverick into an upset win in the Republican primary and then a relatively easy victory in November. National conservatives noticed him because he was one of only two Republicans to pick up a House seat relinquished by a Democrat anywhere in the so-called “Watergate year.”

Possibly the most memorable of Kelly’s antics was, when under fire on the bench in 1968, being voluntarily examined by Duke University physicians and pronounced sane. In later years, he campaigned as the only judge and then the only congressman formally declared sane

Short Takes

New Jersey Showdown: The latest Quinnipiac (Conn.) University poll of the race for governor of New Jersey shows Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine leading the GOP candidate, industrialist and 2002 GOP U.S. Senate nominee Doug Forrester, by 50% to 40% statewide. The just-completed results differ little from the Quinnipiac survey in June, which showed Corzine (lifetime ACU rating: 5%) beating moderate GOPer Forrester by 47% to 37%. The recent survey showed that on the question of who would do the better job of holding the line on sky-high property taxes, Corzine and Forrester were each named by 47% of the voters. On fighting corruption, Quinnipiac showed that 32% felt Corzine would do the better job and 32% chose Forrester. As for who would do the better job on tax relief in general, the survey gave a slight edge (34%-to-32%) to Forrester over Corzine.

Timmons to NAM: In a move that surprised many Washingtonians who have known Jay Timmons for years, the political operative known as “George Allen’s Karl Rove” has opted for a major job in the private sector, just as Allen is starting his presidential campaign. Timmons, who served as Allen’s chief of staff when the Virginia Republican was U.S. representative (1991-93) and governor (1993-97) and for the first two years of his Senate term (2001-2002), has just become senior vice president for policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. Along with overseeing policy development and advocacy efforts in Washington, Timmons will also serve as a key spokesman for the business group.

Having served as operating head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee while Allen was NRSC chairman during the ’04 election cycle, Ohio native Timmons had been associated with the Washington-based government relations firm of Tew-Cardenas.