Politics 2005: Week of October 10

Frente: The Next Generation

In Harlot’s Ghost, his epic novel about the CIA, Norman Mailer vividly brings to life events leading  to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. In recalling the ill-fated invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles, Mailer meshes his own fictional characters such as CIA agent Harry Hubbard with true-to-life Castro opponents such as Toto Barbero and Mario Garcia Kohly, both followers of deposed Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, and Manuel Ray, erstwhile Castro man who had grown disappointed after his hero took power and ruled as a dictator. Together, they formed the Frente—the anti-Castro coalition that would serve as the new government in Cuba had “Bumpy Roads” (the CIA code name for the Bay of Pigs invasion) succeeded.

It didn’t, of course, but, in a way, Frente lives on as the sons and daughters of many of the Cuban exile community leaders now take leading roles in Florida politics. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.-Fla.), who became the first Cuban-American member of Congress in 1990, is the daughter of anti-Communist underground leader Enrique Ros. The other two Cuban-American House members from the Sunshine State, Republicans Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, are the sons of the onetime majority leader of the Cuban Congress in the Batista years. The elder Diaz-Balart, who died earlier this year,  arranged the only meeting between his former brother-in-law, Fidel Castro, and Batista himself before the revolution of 1959. Once Castro had overthrown Batista, he put out a death warrant on the Diaz-Balart family that forced them to flee to the United States.

The first Cuban-American to sit on the Florida Supreme Court, Raoul G. Cantero III, is the great-grandson of Batista himself. Named to the state’s high court last year by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the 45-year-old Cantero was mentioned frequently as a possible appointee to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

The latest “first” for the Cuban-American community came two weeks ago when the Republican majority in the Florida House of Representatives designated state Rep. Marco Rubio as the chamber’s first-ever Cuban-American speaker. Elected unanimously by the GOP (who hold 84 seats in the House to 36 for the Democrats), 34-year-old West Miami lawyer Rubio will succeed present Speaker Allan Bense in November 2006 if (as expected) Republicans retain their majority.

In his acceptance speech, Rubio denounced Castro as a “thug” who forced Rubio’s parents to flee Cuba before he was born. Rubio’s election ceremony was beamed to Cuba over the U.S. government-supported Radio Marti.

More Senate No-Goes

Last week was not good for Republican hopes of increasing their 55 seats in the U.S. Senate to offset possible losses in Tennessee or Pennsylvania. In two states where Republicans felt they had good chances of taking out veteran Democratic senators, West Virginia and North Dakota, the GOP candidates considered the strongest decided not to run.

In West Virginia, three-term Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R.) announced last week that she would not challenge eight-term Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd in 2006. Moderate-conservative Capito (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 74%), the first GOP lawmaker from the Mountaineer State in 18 years and the daughter of former Republican Gov. (1968-76, 1984-88) Arch Moore, Jr., told the Charleston Daily Mail, “My best future right now is to ask voters to send me back to my seat in Congress. I feel I have been very effective there, and there’s more to be done.”

After 53 years in Congress (six in the House and 47 in the Senate), the 88-year-old Byrd announced last week he would seek a ninth term. So far, the leading Republican candidate is lawyer and Iraqi War veteran Hiram Lewis, who narrowly lost a race for state attorney general last year.

In North Dakota, despite strong encouragement from President Bush, two-term Gov. John Hoeven (R.) announced last week he would not challenge liberal Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in ’06. Hoeven’s no-go leaves Roughrider State Republicans without any strong candidate at this time.

DeWine Down

The news is not good for Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine (R.)—at least, that’s the verdict of veteran pollster John Zogby. In a survey conducted for the Wall Street Journal last week, Zogby found that, among all Ohio voters, Democratic U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Col. Paul Hackett actually defeats DeWine by 44.2% to 35.9%. Earlier this year, Hackett was the narrow loser to Republican Jean Schmidt in a nationally watched special election for the U.S. House in Ohio’s 2nd District (Cincinnati).

DeWine (lifetime ACU rating: 82%), well-known from more than 20 years as House member (1982-90), lieutenant governor (1990-94) and U.S. senator, has “one of the lowest approval ratings in the Senate,” Zogby concluded. The pollster believes this may be because of DeWine’s role as one of seven Republicans in the “Gang of 14” that blocked the constitutional option in the Senate to end filibusters of judicial nominees.

Given the senator’s role in the “Gang of 14” and his loss of support among the party’s conservative base, former Rep. (1980-92) Bob McEwen is being increasingly mentioned as a challenger to DeWine in the GOP primary next May. Zogby’s poll actually showed stalwart conservative McEwen in a slightly stronger position against Hackett. The Democrat leads McEwen among all voters by 41% to 36.8% statewide.

In the same special election in which Hackett was the Democratic standard-bearer, the 55-year-old McEwen was the runner-up to Schmidt by fewer than 800 votes in a four-candidate primary (the last-place finisher was Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, the senator’s son).

McEwen’s showing in a statewide poll is particularly intriguing, since he has never run for statewide office. The former congressman has not said what his plans are, although some supporters have also encouraged him to pursue a primary rematch with Schmidt.

Hickel on the Go

At 87, former Alaska Gov. (1966-69, 1990-94) and U.S. Secretary of the Interior (1980-82) Walter J. Hickel is still going strong. Proud of his hard-hitting article for HUMAN EVENTS rebutting former President Jimmy Carter’s calls for barring drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Hickel is sending out a copy of the article with an accompanying letter to every U.S. senator.

When Hickel and longtime right-hand man Malcolm Roberts called to request permission to send out the article, the one-time Nixon Cabinet member regaled me with political reminiscences, including why he supported Robert Taft for the Republican nomination for President over Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 (“Taft was the only one in Washington who understood why we wanted to become a state”). He went on to tell me about his later discussions with Eisenhower that helped make Alaska the 49th state in 1959, noting that “in all those days in the 1950s, I always had a copy of HUMAN EVENTS with me.” He also recalled how, as governor, he hosted Charles Lindbergh at the governor’s mansion in 1967 before the aviator addressed a joint session of the state legislature—the Lone Eagle’s first public speech since his controversial calls for non-involvement in the European War before World War II.

But that’s not all. At the end of October, Hickel told me, he’ll jet to Moscow for the 90th anniversary celebration of SOPS, the oldest think tank in Moscow. SOPS head and academician Alexander Granberg has urged his colleagues to read Hickel’s book on the Alaskan economic model.