Gizzi on Politics Nov. 2, 2009

Last-Minute Cannon Fire

When job constraints led Mark Whited to relinquish the Republican nomination for Virginia’s House of Delegates from the 36th District (Reston), 32-year-old Mac Cannon stepped in to carry the banner.

On September 3, Cannon, son of former Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White House aide Hugh Cannon, became the GOP nominee.

With Old Dominion State Democrats making an all-out effort to overturn the present 53-to-47 seat Republican majority in the House of Delegates, it is always refreshing to find a race in which a conservative Republican stalwart has a chance at ousting an ultraliberal Democrat.

The race in the 36th District is a case in point. Cannon, a Virginia Tech graduate and executive director of the American Council of Engineering, is facing 68-year-old Delegate Kenneth Plum, who, with one two-year interruption, has been in the state legislature since 1977. Plum’s views are vintage 1970s leftism. Strongly pro-abortion (National Abortion Rights Action League rating: 100%), former teacher Plum has compiled a mediocre 53% from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and 91% from the Virginia AFL-CIO.
Cannon is strongly pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and, like Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell, anti-tax.

“And, unlike my opponent,” Cannon says, “I would not vote to permit convicted felons like pornographers and other criminals to work in our schools.” He is referring to a vote on a measure (H.B. 1481) on Feb. 12, 2008, that would have allowed convicted felons, including pornographers and prostitutes, to get waivers to work on school property. The bill failed, with fewer than one third of the delegates supporting it. Among them, however, was Plum. Despite the late start of the Cannon campaign, it appears to be catching fire. The 36th is considered Democratic, but Republicans such as Sen. (1978-2008) John Warner and Rep. (1994-2008) Tom Davis have carried it in recent years: Cannon for Delegate, P0 Box 3703, Reston, Va. 20195;

Judicial Wars

State supreme court races are historically not political “red meat.” But the contest to replace recently resigned Justice Sandra Schultz Newman on Pennsylvania’s highest court is right now the hottest November 3 race in the Keystone State.

With Newman’s seat empty, the seven-member Supreme Court is evenly split between three justices from each major party. New U.S. House district lines will be drawn in 2011 after the census next year, and battles over what the lines will be and which party gives up the one U.S. House district Pennsylvania is likely to lose, are very likely to end up before the supreme court. Hence, the importance of the contest between Republican Joan Orie Melvin and Democrat Jack Panella.

Both are currently superior court judges. Melvin, sister of state senate Republican Whip Jane Orie, is considered a strict constructionist. Panella is regarded as a liberal, and has so far received more than $500,000 from labor unions and more than $1 million from trial lawyers. In recent weeks, the race as grown even more heated. Borrowing a page from the union-fueled race that unseated Michigan conservative Chief Justice Cliff Taylor last year (in which photos of Taylor’s allegedly dozing off during hearings were used), Panella’s campaign has charged Melvin with not being energetic as a jurist. Melvin recently fired back by tying the Democrat to political corruption in Luzerne County.

Death of a Westerner

Saturday, June 14, 2003: SW(Smarter Wife) and I have often spoken of the memorable dinner at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown Club that evening as “Wyoming Night.” Among the guests were Wyoming Republican National Committeeman Diemer True and wife Susie, then-Rep. Barbara Cubin (R.-Wyo.), and then-Assistant U.S. Atty. Gen. Tom Sansonetti and wife Kristi. Everyone except my wife and me were from Wyoming and all seemed to have a warm story about former Sen. (1966-78) Clifford P. Hansen.

That evening came to mind upon learning of the death of Hansen, the oldest (97) former senator, on October 20 after receiving treatment for a broken pelvis. As this news became known, his legions of friends recalled Cliff Hansen’s spirited defense of landowners on issues such as eminent domain, his passion for the great outdoors, and his good nature toward all.

The son of homesteaders, Hansen grew up in Zenith, Wyo. He conquered a stutter by riding on the range on horseback and making speeches to herds of cows. Following graduation from the University of Wyoming in 1934, Hansen turned to the profession in which he would spend a lifetime: cattle ranching.

But politics also beckoned and, in 1943, he won the first of two terms as Teton County commissioner. In 1962, Hansen won the Republican nomination to oppose acting Democratic Gov. Jack Gage. Two years earlier, Republican Keith Thomson had died of a heart attack weeks after his election to the U.S. Senate from Wyoming. Then-Democratic Gov. J.J. Hickey abruptly resigned his office and Gage (who, as secretary of state, was next in succession) became governor and appointed Hickey to the Senate. Voters were upset with this arrangement and Republican Milward Simpson won the Senate seat from Hickey and Hansen ousted Gage from the governorship.

Hansen governed as a no-tax, pro-property rights conservative.

When Sen. Simpson stepped down in 1966, Hansen easily won in a race against Democratic State Chairman Teno Roncalio. In Washington, Hansen looked after state interests on the Senate Interior Committee and on the Finance Committee (which oversees the oil depletion allowance). He compiled a solidly conservative record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%), but on occasion showed a maverick streak: Despite a personal plea from President Nixon to support the Supersonic Transport (SST), the Wyoming lawmaker voiced worries that the SST’s sonic booms would defile his state’s quiet expanses.

NBC-TV correspondent Pete Williams, who got his start in Washington on Hansen’s staff, wrote of his old boss’s signature graciousness. Recalling how at the end of a workday the senator would say goodnight to everyone on his staff, Williams noted that Hansen would always stop at his desk and ask to use his phone. Then he would call his wife Martha, always saying, “Honey, I’ll be home in a half-hour.”