UPI's Capital Comment for Oct. 28, 2002

By United Press International  |  Oct. 28, 2002 at 2:43 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (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.

The bonus round -- The bureaucracy being what it is, it is not surprising that few people involved in the process of granting visas to some of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York and Washington were not fired from their posts. What is surprising, some say, is that several of them were actually given "Department Performance Pay Awards," cash prizes for superior performance of their jobs.

"Brushing aside their own department's now-obvious 9/11 culpability, top officials at State have rewarded some 200 senior members of the foreign service with bonuses of $10,000 - $15,000 each -- including four of the five top officials at Consular Affairs, the agency within the State Department that oversees consulates and visa issuance, as well as the person who helped implement the Visa Express program in Saudi Arabia," National Review's Joel Mowbray wrote last week. According to Mowbray, Thomas Furay, who was the consul general at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia who helped set up the Visa Express program, was just one of several officials who received one of the performance bonuses. Also receiving awards were: Maura Harty, a former consular affairs official who is now head of Secretary of State Colin Powell's executive office and who has been nominated by the president to take over as head of the office of consular affairs; Dianne Andruch, a top consular affairs deputy who, according to Mowbray, "mislead Congress when she implied at a June 12 congressional hearing that Visa Express had ended." and Mary Ryan, a Clinton administration hold-over who ran the office of consular affairs and who, according to Mowbray, "knowingly deceived Congress by telling lawmakers -- while she was under oath -- that there was nothing State could have done to prevent the terrorists from obtaining visas."

Minnesota rules -- Rumors that former Senator and Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale will be chosen by Minnesota Democrats as the replacement for Sen. Paul Wellstone, who was killed Friday in a plane crash, have sent election experts running to the state's election code to figure out what the rules are.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer has been attempting to clarify the rules, especially as regards absentee ballots. According to a statement put out by Kiffmeyer's office, absentees including a vote for a senate candidate currently on the ballot who is not Paul Wellstone are not affected in any way. Voters who have an existing absentee ballot who have not sent it in may wait until the Democrats select a new nominee and then write that candidate's name in the space provided for write-ins.

Ballots that have already been cast for Wellstone and mailed in will not be counted for Wellstone, but will be counted for all other races. Those absentee voters who have already sent in their ballot but still wish to vote for the new nominee must go to the polls on Election Day. Minnesota state law prohibits new supplemental ballots from being sent to anyone who already received an absentee ballot with Wellstone's name on it, according to the secretary of state's office.

Opening up -- A new poll conducted for the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg, Fla., Times shows Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush with a 51 percent to 43 percent lead over Democrat Bill McBride. The survey has Bush leading among men, 56 percent to 37 percent while two candidates are tied at 47 percent each among women. The poll of 800 statewide likely voters was conducted jointly by the Polling Company, a GOP firm, and the Democrat firm of Schroth and Assoc. Bush's lead is outside the 3.5 percent margin of error.

Limited ambition -- One of the big political stories in the mid-1990s was the effort to limit the terms of state legislators. Most of the time this was accomplished through the initiative process, most legislators being reluctant to limit their own terms. The end goal of the organizers of the effort was to impose limits on the number of terms members of Congress could serve, and, in an acknowledgment of the power of the idea, the Republicans included a promise to hold a vote on the issue as part of 1994's Contract with America.

The vote failed and the drive fizzled. However, limits are still the law in 11 states. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, a total of 322 state representatives and senators are termed out this year. Among the chambers hit hardest are the Michigan state Senate, where 71 percent of incumbents are not running for re-election. The Missouri House of Representatives will lose 45 percent if its current members.

Also taking big hits are the Florida Senate (30 percent of members term out), the California Assembly (25 percent), and the Maine House, where 28 out of 151 members must retire. Campaign analysts will be watching an initiative in Idaho to restore the limits voters passed several years ago and which the state legislature removed over the governor's objection earlier this year.

Women candidates are a winning bet -- Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones played host to a successful party for the Women's Campaign Fund in her home Saturday. Among the honored guests was Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., now running for her third term in Congress. In her remarks Berkley said that one of the first contributions she ever got in the mail was $1,000 from WCF. Also at the event was Ellie Kurpiewski, a Democrat running against Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif.; Harriet Trudell, the political director of the Nevada Democratic Party; and Carol Kirshman, the president of the CASA Foundation, which coordinates a network of volunteers across the country who advocate in court for abused and neglected children.

The Women's Campaign Fund is the first national, non-partisan political committee founded in America to help elect women in favor of abortion rights to public office at all levels of government.

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