UPI's Capital Comment for Nov. 14, 2002

By United Press International

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (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.

Judge for yourself -- One thing sure to change as a result of the Nov. 5 election, analysts and operatives on both the left and right predicted, was that the logjam holding back President George W. Bush's judicial nominations would be broken -- and quickly. They were right.


On Thursday, by voice vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Dennis Shedd to be a judge on the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the nomination of Michael McConnell to be a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Their nominations, along with that of almost a dozen other circuit court nominees, had languished in the committee as a result of partisan wrangling between the White House and the Democrat-controlled Senate.


The full Senate is expected to approve both nominations before it leaves town for the year -- either on Friday or sometime late next week.

As to the politics of this, the liberal special interest groups were outraged. "The Bush administration's goal of moving the federal courts further to the right advanced dramatically" through these votes, according to Kate Michelman, the leader of the pro-abortion rights group, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

"It is disheartening that political expediency took precedence over protecting the civil and constitutional rights of women and minorities," she said.

What Michelman fails to point out is that the committee is still controlled by the Democrats, meaning that something else besides abortion politics is afoot.

That something, Republicans say, is the Louisiana U.S. Senate runoff election scheduled for Dec. 7. Abortion is a big deal in the state, which is heavily Catholic in its southern areas and heavily evangelical in its northern regions.

After seeing how Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss used the "judges issue" to mobilize conservative voters in his victory over first-term Democrat incumbent Sen. Max Cleland, the Democrats are trying hard not to get caught in that box again -- meaning they have opened up the process for the two circuit nominees who committee Democrats, internally at least, find the least problematic from a political perspective -- and given Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu some cover on a tough issue going into a tough fight.


Results and recriminations -- Republicans in Oregon are still fuming over Libertarian Tom Cox's decision not to withdraw from the governor's race prior to Nov. 5., staying on the field as a spoiler.

Cox polled more than 56,000 votes in the race -- substantially more than the 35,000-vote margin separating the winner, Democrat Ted Kulongoski, from the loser, Republican Kevin Mannix. The race was much closer than most people expected. Mannix won 26 of the state's 34 counties, but lost to Kulongoski in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, by 72,000 votes.

Many Republicans believe that, had Cox dropped out, Mannix's numbers would have improved enough around the state to allow him to overcome the Democrat's advantage in Portland.

Getting big numbers out of Portland is becoming increasingly more important to the Democrats in their efforts to win statewide open seats. In the 1996 special election called to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of GOP Sen. Bob Packwood, Democrat Ron Wyden ended up the winner by just over 18,000 votes only because he managed to produce a big lead out of Multnomah County -- his GOP opponent, Republican state Sen. President Gordon Smith, having won just about every other county.


Somewhat ironically, the two men are now colleagues in the U.S. Senate, Smith having been elected to replace fellow Republican Mark Hatfield in the general election later that year. The last time the GOP won the governorship of Oregon was 1982, when Republican Victor Atiyeh was re-elected to a second term -- The Democrat he beat that year, in a further twist of fate, the state's new governor-elect, Ted Kulongoski.

The Republicans fared better in the state legislature. They picked up four seats in the state House of Representatives to give them a 35-to-25 seat majority, and they won a key race in Corvallis to salvage a 15-15 tie in the state Senate.

Cleaning things up -- A Nov. 13 report from the General Accounting Office is raising concerns about personnel moves inside the Environmental Protection Agency. The GAO says an EPA reorganization that moved the agency's ombudsman into the office of the inspector general earlier this year "has failed to make the office more responsive to community concerns," according to Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., to whom the report was given.

A statement released by her office says the GAO concluded that the move "significantly hampers the independent operation of the EPA ombudsman. This includes elimination of the ombudsman's ability to independently determine which cases to pursue or to exercise independent control over their budget and staff resources.


"The communities impacted by environmental cleanups, including the neighborhoods near the Vasquez Boulevard/I-70 in Denver and the residents of Lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero, need to have a voice in the EPA. An independent EPA ombudsman is critical to ensuring that these voices are heard and that the EPA responds appropriately to their concerns," DeGette said, indicating her intention to push in the next Congress for legislation to make the EPA's ombudsman independent.

A New York state of wine -- A federal judge has declared New York's laws barring the interstate direct shipment of wine into the state unconstitutional. Judge Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled the state could not discriminate against out-of-state wineries that want to ship to in-state consumers.

Before the ruling, out-of-state wineries had been barred from shipping to New York consumers, while in-state wineries were under no such restriction.

In his ruling, Berman said the state's contention that its Alcohol Beverage Control law "erects no barrier to the flow of goods and imposes no burden on interstate commerce," did not hold up under scrutiny.

"The evidence here demonstrates ... that the exceptions to the ABC Law provide an impermissible economic benefit and (protection) to only in-state interests, but also that there are


non-discriminatory alternatives available."

Berman's ruling is the latest in a series of four overturning bans on direct shipping. A hearing to determine the remedy that the court will order is scheduled for Dec. 5.

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