UPI's Capital Comment for March 19, 2002

By United Press International  |  March 19, 2002 at 2:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 18 (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.

Tennessee waltz -- Now that Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn., has announced for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Fred Thompson, all eyes are shifting to the GOP primary between former Gov. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Ed Bryant, who served as one of the House managers in the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.

The primary is shaping up as a battle between major donor types and party liberals -- represented by Alexander -- and the mainstream, many of who are ideologically more in sync with Bryant.

GOP leaders are reportedly not concerned about holding the seat. They think that either man would win the general election but concede that Alexander would have a much easier time raising money -- even though he has not been on a state ballot in Tennessee since 1982, the last time he was elected governor.

Clement's entry into the race may change that dynamic. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., D-Tenn., and former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall, both of whom were also looking at the race, will reportedly back Clement. A nasty fight between Alexander and Bryant would leave Clement free to tour the state, reconnecting with voters who know him best as the son of the late and popular Gov. Frank Clement.

Soft touch -- Insiders say the idea of a Tipper Gore bid for the U.S. Senate was never really serious, having more to do with her husband's ambition then anything else.

The only vice presidential spouse to serve in the Senate was the late Sen. Muriel Humphrey, D-Minn., wife of former presidential candidate and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey who served a term as vice president under Lyndon Johnson. Muriel Humphrey was appointed to the seat after her husband's death and did not run for re-election.

The real deal, say insiders, was that the speculation provided an opportunity for Al Gore to demonstrate that he was still a member in good standing of the so-called "alpha male" club. By appearing supportive of his wife's potential political aspirations he reinforced the image author and social critic Naomi Wolf, a Gore campaign consultant, tried to help the former vice president create in his bid for the presidency. The softening of Al Gore, often criticized for appearing stiff, is an important factor in winning the support of middle- and upper-income married women, a key GOP constituency.

Must not see TV -- The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network are targeting St. Louis-based Charter Communications for a protest. The group wants cable and satellite to be more sensitive to the needs of black America and provide them with more positive programming.

"American satellite TV and cable broadcasters such as Charter Communications are rife with institutional racism. Bias has become a way of corporate life. That is why we will challenge the cable franchises of Charter Communications across urban America. Charter has high rates and poor service. Customers deserve better," the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, president of the group's Michigan chapter, said.

As one of their complaints, the group cites the failure of Charter to carry The Word Network, which it calls "an urban religious network that broadcasts to millions of African-Americans daily."

You can always write your congressman -- Many House Republicans expressed frustration at their inability to do more to influence the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court. One of them, Rep. Walter Jones, Jr., R-N.C., took the rather ordinary step of writing to his senator about it.

"Judge Pickering enjoys the support of Democrats and Republicans alike in his home state. He is a respected family man and jurist. He shares North Carolinians' values. Were it not for the fact that Judge Pickering is a conservative, a vote on the Senate floor would long since have occurred," Jones said in a letter to Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., a member of the committee and a strong opponent of Pickering.

Alas, it was for naught. Edwards, along with the rest of the committee Democrats, voted down the nomination and refused to send it forward for consideration by the full Senate.

Endangered specie -- The National Parks Conservation Association is set to announce its annual list of the nation's 10 most endangered national parks at a news conference Monday at the Federal Hall National Monument In New York City -- which is, not coincidentally, an addition to the group's list.

The NPCA complains that a lack of "necessary funding" has compromised the Park Service's ability to preserve the hall. "Interpretive exhibits are nearly 30 years old and do not reflect the depth and importance of the site. Inadequate operating funds also mean the park has no public safety officer to protect the hundreds of people who sit on the building's front steps every day, no historian, and no educational outreach coordinator," the group said in a release.

Federal Hall is the site of the George Washington's inauguration, the home of the first Congress of the United States, the place where the Bill of Rights was ratified and, in the colonial period, the place where the trial of editor John Peter Zenger, which established the principle that truth was a defense against a charge of libel, was held.

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