UPI's Capital Comment for May 3, 2002

By United Press International  |  May 3, 2002 at 1:00 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 3 (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.

Hanging up his gun and his spurs -- James Jay Baker has stepped down as head of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Affairs. Baker's resignation, which was reportedly not expected, was announced at the group's annual conference in Reno, Nev. He will be a tough act to follow. Baker was one of the most respected and feared lobbyists on Capitol Hill -- least of all because he represented more than 3 million licensed gun owners and supporters of the Second Amendment. Stepping up to give it a shot is current NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, who worked as an aide to Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., prior to joining the gun-ownership rights group.

Build a better mousetrap, and they will beat a path to your door -- The effort to reform America's system of public education is becoming an increasingly private matter. More and more, philanthropists like John Walton of the Walmart fortune and J. Patrick Rooney, the inventor of medical savings accounts, are spending small fortunes on ways to help parents and schools innovate and improve, internally and by adding competition to the education marketplace.

One effort that is focused on inner city public schools is being underwritten by The Broad Foundation of Los Angeles, which has just announced which of America's inner city school systems will be competing for the new Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The Broad Prize consists of a $500,000 grant to fund scholarships for students in the winning school district to attend college or other post-secondary training.

The winner will be the district seen by a jury composed of labor, political and business leaders to have made "the greatest overall improvement in student achievement while at the same time reducing the achievement gap across ethnic groups and between high and low income students." Competing for the prize are: Atlanta public schools; Boston public schools; the Garden Grove, Calif., Unified School District; the Houston Independent School District; and the Long Beach, Calif., Unified School District.

New man in town -- State Rep. Scott Walker has been elected Milwaukee County, Wis., executive, defeating Hales Corners, Wis., Village President Jim Ryan by 20,000 votes. A Republican member of the state assembly, Walker will finish out the term of F. Thomas Ament, who resigned in February following a voter revolt over a pension-payout scandal.

Ament quit after a citizens' group collected more than twice the number of signatures needed to force a recall election following revelations that a new county pension formula approved by Ament and the board in November 2000 would have provided him with a multi-million-dollar lump-sum payment on top of his pension when he retired. At 34, Walker is the youngest person to hold the non-partisan post since it was created in 1960.

Another one through the political/media revolving door -- Bobbie Battista, former host of CNN's Talk Back Live has signed on to run the media for Georgia State Rep. Bob Irvin's U.S. Senate campaign. Irvin, the former Republican leader in the statehouse, is vying with U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., for the right to take on incumbent Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., in November. Although the White House has weighed in on behalf of Chambliss, GOP sources inside the state say that Irvin poses a real threat to the presumptive frontrunner.

Friendship only goes so far -- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has joined the lawsuit being brought against the Bush administration over the issue of environmental emissions from Mexican trucks now allowed on U.S. roads thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement. "Trucks that cross our border from Mexico must meet U.S. emission standards," Teamsters head James P. Hoffa said. Of late, the Teamsters and the Bush administration have been quite chummy, as both were lobbying hard to gain congressional approval for oil exploration in a small and barren section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Insiders suggest the Teamster's decision to join the suit will not have a chilling effect on their relations with the White House.

Two term "max" in Minn.? -- The re-election campaign of Democrat Sen. Paul Wellstone continues to struggle in Minnesota. Polls from both the Democrat and Republican camps show Wellstone and GOP challenger Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, within a few points of each other, somewhere around 40 percent. One theme the GOP is hitting pretty hard is that Wellstone -- who ran in 1990 as an outsider and pledged limit his service, saying two terms was enough -- has become an insider. According to the Republicans, Minnesota voters appear ready to prove they agree with Wellstone's original position: two terms is enough.

And the award goes to... -- The Society of Professional Journalists have given the 2001 Sigma Delta Chi award for excellence in journalism in the research category to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington. The two were honored for their work on a project to outline and explain the theory of journalism by which most news people operate.

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