UPI's Capital Comment for Feb. 19, 2002

By United Press International  |  Feb. 20, 2002 at 1:17 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- News notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Not like us -- The feisty debate in the House over campaign finance reform took a nasty turn late Wednesday night that had racial overtones as Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., took a quick shot at his own party.

The House was debating an amendment by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, that would have barred political contributions from non-citizens of the United States. Opponents of the amendment, which later failed, complained that many legal aliens and other permanent residents have long participated in the political process.

Shays said the amendment would feed the misconception that the GOP was less welcoming to minorities then the Democrats.

"We are good people," Shays said, gesturing to the Republican side of the House, dominated almost entirely by white faces. "But we don't look like that," he said, gesturing to the more diverse makeup of the Democrats.

Bass-ackwards -- Reports coming from inside the White House indicate a heated debate occurred over the recently released Economic Report of the President. It wasn't the conclusions or the choice of economic models that provoked the fight -- it was the presentation. A small minority among the economists responsible for pulling the report together suggested that the tables, which usually come at the back of the book, be placed in the front -- ahead of the actual report -- on the grounds that it is the tables that everyone finds most useful. They lost this round but the idea won't go away.

A taxing job -- Word comes from the Department of the Treasury that a highly placed member of the sub-cabinet is due to leave his job shortly. The story is that he promised his wife that he would only take on the job for a year - less it overtax his obligations to his family. The likely replacement is the current occupant of the deputy slot.

The other side -- Several veteran environmental activists came out in favor of oil exploration in the Artic National Wildlife Refugee Thursday at a Capitol Hill press conference in support of the Bush energy bill. In statement issued by CREA, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, they asserted their belief that energy exploration can take place within ANWR, consistent with the environmental mandate of this important national treasure. CREA advisor Brian Ball, the former chairman of The Nature Conservancy of Virginia said, "Technological advances and increased ecological awareness have made this kind of exploration possible while leaving a minimal footprint on the surrounding environment."

The Land Trust of Virginia's Linda Porter added, "Congress designated 1.5 million acres of the 19.6 million acre refuge for energy exploration when ANWR was established. It is important for people to understand that exploring ANWR sets no precedent, and honors the intention of Congress and President Carter in establishing the refuge."

In the same release, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Trustee Jimmy Wheat said, "The conservation community should take this opportunity to work closely with Congress to ensure that exploration in ANWR results in a net environmental gain." CREA says it hopes to build support for ANWR exploration among responsible leaders in the environmental movement.

Talent almost comes out on top -- Former GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Talent leads appointed U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., by 2-points in November's race for U.S. Senate according to a survey released by the Talent campaign.

Talent leads 47 percent to 45 percent lead over Carnahan -- who has a 97 percent name identification score. By contrast, 84 percent of the electorate knew Talent, who narrowly lost the race for governor in 2002. The Jan. 21-24 poll of 800 registered voters was conducted by American Viewpoint and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Into the gap -- If U.S. Rep. Bob Ehrlich, R-Md., decides to run for governor this year, a powerhouse name is waiting in the wings to replace him in the House -- former GOP state house leader Ellen Sauerbrey.

In 1994, Sauerbrey lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Parris Glendening by less than 6,000 votes in an election severely tainted by allegations of fraudulent voting.

A recent poll of voters in the new 2nd district shows Sauerbrey to have strong appeal among Democrats as well as Republicans. The survey also showed her running well against the likely Democrat candidate for the seat, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger.

Looking out for their own interests? -- The U.S. Senate Thursday voted down an effort to give felons the right to vote after they completed their sentences.

The amendment, offered by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Arlen Specter, R-Penn. -- to legislation that would provide $3.4 billion for election overhaul -- failed by a vote of 63-31.

"They've paid their debt to society. Shouldn't they be able to have the right to vote? That's what this is all about," Reid said of the measure that would have given felons the right to vote in federal elections only.

Voting rights for felons vary by state. Nine states impose a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons. In 32 states, felons can vote after serving out their sentence or completing parole. Two states - Maine and Vermont - have no prohibition and allow prisoners to vote. In 2000, Massachusetts voted to place prohibitions on felons' voting rights. Six other states impose restrictions based on a felon's prior record or parole status.

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