Rising star

Robert Novak

1/8/2005 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who was voted out of the House Republican leadership six years ago, is now the odds-on favorite to be the next majority leader if Rep. Tom DeLay is forced to resign.

 After the 1998 election, Boehner was badly beaten by Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma for re-election as chairman of the House Republican Conference. Instead of fading away as defeated congressional leaders usually do, however, Boehner buckled down to hard legislative work and became an effective chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee.

 DeLay will have to resign if Democratic District Attorney Ronnie Earle in Austin, Texas, brings an indictment against the majority leader. Resignation would be necessary under a rule that was just reinstated by the House Republican Conference.

DR. FRIST'S MISSION

 Prominent House Republicans were outraged that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the only physician in the Senate, left on a medical mission to the Indian Ocean disaster area Wednesday, missing the Electoral College challenge Thursday.

 The challenge to Ohio's presidential outcome initiated by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio required roll call votes in both the Senate and House at Thursday's counting of electoral votes. Frist's presence was not absolutely necessary Thursday, with the challenge rejected by a 74 to 1 Senate vote.

 Nevertheless, the majority leader's critics grumbled that his medical presence in Sri Lanka could have been postponed for a day or two until the counting of Electoral College votes by a joint session of Congress was disposed of.

FADING STAR

 The once bright prospects for Colorado Gov. Bill Owens to be the conservative favorite for the 2008 presidential nomination are taking another hit with his support for a referendum to amend his state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). The change would no longer require lower government spending in the wake of a recessionary year.

 As a state senator 13 years ago, Owens first attracted national attention by sponsoring a TABOR constitutional amendment that required government surpluses to be returned to taxpayers each year. The new referendum backed by Owens would allow the state government to retain most of the surplus this year.

 Conservatives seeking a governor to run for president for several years had their eyes on Owens. Their interest dipped, however, when Republicans lost control of the Colorado legislature and lost a U.S. Senate seat in the 2000 elections amid the party's success in most parts of the country.

NON-JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT

 Claude Allen, a leading African-American conservative Republican, was left off President Bush's list of renominated judicial appointments but is slated to become the new head of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

 Allen, currently an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, was one of the 10 appellate court nominees blocked by Senate Democrats. Conservative sources say he was not anxious to go through that painful process again.

 However, Allen may eventually be renominated for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, but to a Virginia seat when one opens up instead of the Maryland seat to which he was first named. That would bypass opposition from Maryland's two liberal Democratic senators, Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski. Allen is a Virginia resident.

SPITZER'S CHOICE

 New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has gained a national reputation for aggressive prosecution of corporate conduct, will speak at a Manhattan fund-raiser for California State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi's contested campaign for the Democratic nomination as his state's lieutenant governor.

 The fund-raiser will be held the evening of Jan. 26 at the Four Seasons Restaurant, with the cost of tickets ranging from $500 to $5,000. Garamendi has been a perennial candidate in California, with mixed success.

 Garamendi was pondering a run for governor in 2006 but backed away because of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's popularity. He is not assured of the lieutenant governor's nomination. A leading contender is State Sen. Jackie Speier of San Mateo, a longtime Democratic activist.