WASHINGTON, July 5 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.
Off the bench -- As expected, the retirement of House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, R-Okla., has set off a scramble to replace him in that post. The announced candidates thus far are: Reps. J. D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.; Jim Ryun, R-Kan.; and Debra Pryce, R-Ohio, the current vice-chairman of the conference.
Pryce reportedly has the support of most of the current GOP leadership. They want to insure diversity exists among the top ranks of the party in the House. Hayworth and Ryun are reliably conservative on most, if not all, issues while Pryce is more liberal -- giving Republican moderates what they think is their best shot in some time to elect one of their own to a leadership post, as the two conservatives split their vote.
Candidates to replace Pryce as vice-chairman of the conference include Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who leads the "GOP Theme Team" and Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo
Let me have two dimes for a nickel -- Until the budget crisis was settled late Wednesday, Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican, was still moving ahead in his relentless drive to make the introduction of a state income tax the ultimate legacy of his eight years in office.
Before agreement was reached to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, the largest hike in state history, Sundquist had forced a shutdown of non-essential government services because the legislature balked at his proposed tax hikes.
Reports from the state had citizens up in arms over the closure of such things as highway rest stops, which one Washington lobbyist traveling through the state on Wednesday called "the classic 'Washington Monument' strategy."
In one late Sundquist proposal, which the legislature ultimately rejected, existing taxes on cigarettes and sales would be increased and a 1 percent state income tax would go into effect in January. Voters would be asked to approve a constitutional convention to find a permanent fix but, if they reject the convention call, the income tax would rise to 3.5 percent.
The biggest loser in all this could be former Gov. Lamar Alexander, who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Fred Thompson. The tax-happy Sundquist has endorsed Alexander, leaving him in the uncomfortable position of having to say little about taxes, usually the winning issue for Republican candidates.
Hooray for Hollywood -- Former child star Charlie Korsmo, who played Robin Williams' son in Steven Spielberg's "Hook," is now working in the office of Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. Cox is routinely mentioned as a potential candidate for a Senate run against Democrat Barbara Boxer, or for a seat on the federal bench with an eye to a future appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. While some may think the presence of a Hollywood actor on the staff of a conservative Republican to be a bit unusual, it is no less amusing when one considers that Korsmo also used to work for silver screen legend and liberal political activist Warren Beatty. In 1990, Korsmo played the role of "The Kid" in Beatty's blockbuster "Dick Tracy."
Westward ho! -- On Wednesday, President and Mrs. Bush, Native American leaders representing many of the sovereign tribal nations and others met in the White House East Room to officially dispatch the "Corps of Discovery II" in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the historic journey westward of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Named for the original expedition, the "Corps of Discovery II" is a traveling museum and classroom that will make stops in more than 400 communities in 19 states along the Lewis and Clark Trail during the four-year commemoration. That will include 15 national heritage events in trailside communities, a public awareness campaign, national and local celebrations and a campaign to fund Lewis and Clark legacy projects such as Native American sacred site protection and language preservation.
Fighting for free speech -- The American Federation of Teachers has written to University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft demanding they "honor the faculty contract, follow due process, uphold the right to academic freedom and protect the constitutional right of free speech." The 1.2 million-member union, which represents faculty at USF, says "the principles of academic freedom and due process, encompassed in university policy and the collective bargaining agreement, are at risk of being violated" in the case of Professor Sami Al-Arian, a computer science professor and activist for Palestinian causes who has been threatened with firing because of his political views.
Al-Arian raised the ire of some after an appearance on the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" after Sept. 11. Claiming his presence on campus posed a threat, Genshaft placed him on paid leave in February pending a decision on termination.
The letter to Genshaft stresses that while the AFT has taken strong positions in support of the State of Israel and the nation's war on terrorism, the issue goes beyond the politics of the Middle East. "This is about the freedom that we enjoy as Americans, the free speech guaranteed us in the Constitution, the long tradition of academic freedom on campus and the right to due process guaranteed by a union contract," AFT Vice President William Scheuerman said.
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