UPI's Capital Comment for Oct. 29, 2002

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (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 check is not in the mail -- Friday's resignation by Deborah Willhite, the top lobbyist for the U.S. Postal Service, has set off a buzz all across Washington that reaches as far as Atlanta and Little Rock, Ark. As first reported by U.S. News and World Report, Willhite was accused by Senate Republicans of trying to use her position to influence USPS decisions that could affect the outcome of Senate races in Arkansas and Georgia.


According to one GOP source familiar with the issue, a decision was made right before the fall election to move two of the postal service's major hubs from Arkansas to Georgia. The process of moving postal facilities usually takes many months to complete and is never done without congressional input or right before an election.


According to some familiar with this issue, news of the relocations came as a surprise to some on Capitol Hill, leading three Republican senators to contact Postmaster General John Potter. The Republicans asked Potter to provide them with cost/benefit analyses and other documents demonstrating the decision to move the facilities made good financial sense for the USPS, "because none of them had any," a GOP Senate source said.

Willhite, now formerly the Postal Service's senior vice president for public affairs, reportedly participated in the decision-making process that resulted in the facilities being moved. According U.S. News, Willhite "pushed to have the budget for Arkansas post offices cut -- and (Arkansas GOP Sen. Tim) Hutchinson blamed." The jobs lost in Arkansas, to the detriment of Hutchinson's re-election efforts, would be shifted to Georgia, bolstering Democrat Sen. Max Cleland, who is also in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign.

Campaign records show that Willhite contributed to Arkansas state Attorney General Mark Pryor's Senate campaign against Hutchinson. Willhite also contributed to the campaigns of Cleland and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., as well as to HILLPAC, a political committee controlled by the former first lady. Willhite denies that politics played a role in the decision and that she had already decided to resign; nevertheless, Potter is having the USPS budget scrubbed to make sure that no political double-dealing occurred on his watch.


Put the keyboard down and come out with your hands up -- FBI Director Robert Mueller is set to give the keynote address Thursday at an industry-law enforcement forum discussing the best ways to combat e-crime and cyberterrorism. Sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America, an industry group, in conjunction with the FBI, the office of U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of Virginia's Eastern District, the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and the Secret Service, the one-day meeting will explore the best ways government and industry can work together to prevent the nation's cyberinfrastructure from being attacked.

This country is going to pot -- More than 700,000 people were arrested in 2001 for violations of anti-marijuana laws according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report. The total is the second-highest ever recorded by the FBI, and comprises nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States, leading one pro-drug law reform group to call for major changes in the nation's anti-marijuana statutes. "These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said. "In fact, the war on drugs is largely a war on pot smokers. This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that should be dedicated toward combating serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."


Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88.6 percent - some 641,108 Americans -- were charged with possession only. The remaining 82,518 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses -- even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use. Most significantly, says NORML, the total number of marijuana arrests far exceeds the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

An all-time high -- On Nov. 5, voters will chose a chief executive to preside over the business of government in 36 of the 50 states. In 1994, a banner year for the GOP, the number of governorships controlled by that party jumped to 30 from 20. Democrats expect to make a big comeback in governorships this year, in part because there is no incumbent running for re-election in 20 states, the highest vacancy rate in 30 years.

If at least two of the 16 governors who are seeking re-election also lose, as could be the case in at least five states, it will set a record for the number of new chief executives in a single year. The GOP currently occupies 27 governor's mansions, the Democrats 21, and two, Maine and Minnesota, are held by independents.


I'm Catholic and I vote -- Catholics for a Free Choice, a liberal group, has set up a new Web site to debunk what it calls the myths concerning the Catholic vote in American politics. The site's developers say it offers information and analysis intended to help candidates, policymakers and journalists better understand the place of Catholics -- laypeople as well as the hierarchy -- in the 2002 elections. "Like other Americans, Catholics vote their wallets," Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice says. "Candidates need to be more aware of the issues of real concern to Catholic voters, and to understand their true opinion on moral issues that the church falsely promotes as important to Catholic voters."

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