Gizzi on Politics: Feb. 25-29

Divine Right: From Lantos to Speier

The death two weeks ago of Rep. Tom Lantos (D.-Calif.) leaves unchanged the succession to his 12th District (San Mateo) seat desired by both the 28-year lawmaker and most Northern California Democrats.

When he announced his retirement earlier this year, Lantos gave a strong endorsement to State Sen. Jackie Speier, a fellow liberal Democrat, as his successor. Although he had previously criticized Speier for her lack of foreign policy experience, the 79-year-old chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee finally weighed in for her as a “first-class public servant who has made the community’s most-pressing priorities her own.”

Other Democratic powerhouses in the Golden State quickly followed the venerable Lantos and also gave their blessings to Speier. Among those endorsing the 57-year-old lawmaker were area Representatives Anna Eschoo and Mike Thompson, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and more than 100 local officials.

Although Speier has been in the state legislature and before that served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors (and lost a primary bid for lieutenant governor in ’06), she is probably still best known as an aide to late Rep. Leo Ryan (D.-Calif.), who held the 12th District until his death by gunfire outside Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978. When Ryan was gunned down by followers of the diabolical Rev. Jim Jones (whose People’s Temple the congressman was investigating), staffer Speier was also wounded. She later recovered and ran in the special election for Ryan’s House seat, losing the Democratic nomination to fellow Ryan staffer Joe Holsinger, who lost the special election to Republican Bill Royer.

Lantos returned the district to Democratic hands in 1980, one of only three Democrats nationwide to unseat a GOP House member as Ronald Reagan was sweeping to the presidency.

In writing about Speier’s candidacy in the all-important June 3 Democratic primary, the San Francisco Chronicle said it was “looking more like a coronation.” With Lantos’ passing, the coronation will soon take place.

The Shadegg Story: Meanwhile, Back in Arizona….

Diary Notes, Friday, February 15th:  “10:00 A.M.: Heard that Republican [House] members are urging Shadegg to reverse retirement decision; saw letter by [Indiana Rep. Mike] Pence, but no signatures listed. 12:00 P.M.: Lot of talk at lunch [with a Republican National Committee staffer and private political consultant] about letter—now has 130 signers among GOP colleagues. 2:00 P.M.: Letter is public and is up to 148 signers. 4:15 P.M.:  Private meeting among D.C. conservative leaders at which almost all agreed to urge Shadegg to run again. Letter to Shadegg is drafted and is on [Heritage Foundation President Ed] Feulner’s desk.”

As you can guess from these entries, February 15 was, for me, largely devoted to tracking down the fast-breaking story about how Republican House members and national conservative leaders were urging Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) to reverse his announcement made earlier in the week that he was stepping down from Congress after 14 years. Six days later, the 58-year-old Shadegg announced that he would seek re-election after all.

The fast-breaking movement to urge Shadegg (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98%), a past chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, to change his mind is unprecedented this year, even though 28 other House Republicans are either retiring or resigning outright from the House. 

Was this movement based exclusively in Washington or were the sentiments that Shadegg should stay rather than quit shared among Republicans in the Grand Canyon State’s 3rd District (suburban Phoenix)?  “We are all definitely saying ‘Run, John, Run,” State Republican Chairman Randy Pullen assured me, “Take my word for it—I live in the 3rd District.”

Reached in Phoenix shortly after his announcement, the former deputy state attorney general and son of the late State GOP Chairman and close Barry Goldwater operative Steve Shadegg told me that “when you grow up in a household where Barry Goldwater or [the late Republican Sen.] Paul Fannin are always dropping by, and when you fly off quickly to help [Nevada’s] Paul Laxalt win a tough Senate race, freedom gets deep in your blood.” 

Shadegg said that the encouragement from Washington and Arizona to run “was rather stunning.” He recalled to me how, while dozing at the airport in Phoenix after a long flight, “a security guard came up to me, woke me up and said simply ‘run again.’”
But the pivotal encouragement came from wife Shirley, a kindergarten teacher. “When I dropped her off at the school one morning,” Shadegg told me, “Shirley said to me ‘You’re not comfortable with this [retirement].’ When I told her she was right, she said that I should run again. I am.” 

Haley Happy (Over All)

Fresh from his inauguration for a second term, Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour recently got some very good news and some slightly bad news. Two weeks ago, the state Supreme Court upheld his stand that the election to fill the remaining four years of the term of former Republican Sen. (1988-2007) Trent Lott should be held on November 4 to coincide with the national election that day, rather than in a special snap election.

In so doing, the high court reversed the decision of a Hinds County (Jackson) Circuit Court judge who ruled in favor of state Democrats who were calling for an immediate special election. Whatever the legal arguments of the two sides, pundits throughout the Magnolia State agreed that the Democrats’ position stemmed from nervousness about having their Senate nominee run on the same ballot with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in a state that last gave its electoral votes to a Democratic presidential nominee in 1976.
With a lower turnout in an earlier special election and nothing else on the state ballot, went the assumed Democratic thinking, their candidate would have a much better chance against Barbour-appointed GOP Sen. Roger Wicker.

But Barbour issued a “writ of election” shortly after tapping Wicker to succeed Lott, making November 4 the election date, and meaning that Mississippians would be choosing two senators at once, since Republican Sen. Thad Cochran is up for a sixth term this fall. Outgoing Democratic State Atty. Gen. Jim Hood went to court over this. Democrats won the first round, but Barbour has now won the battle.

An obviously happy Wicker told reporters that the November election will “save the taxpayers millions of dollars” and “will now make it possible for our armed forces personnel to vote by absentee ballot.” Most recent polls give him a strong lead over the certain Democratic nominee, former Gov. (1999-2003) Ronnie Musgrove. (See Page 3.)

If there was any recent bad news for Barbour, it was the re-election of frequent antagonist Billy McCoy as speaker of the state house last month. Although the governor took no official position in the race for speaker, his allies gave every indication that Barbour favored State Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus, McCoy’s fellow Democrat and a strong conservative who has worked closely with Barbour. Without exception, every Republican in the state house supported Smith, as did a handful of Democrats who usually vote with Barbour. It was close, but no cigar: McCoy clung to his gavel by a vote of 62 to 60.