Beltway Beat: Shunning Sacajawea

Posted: May 29, 2002 12:00 AM
"I tried to give one to a bum on K Street and he wouldn't take it," says Jason Granger of Washington, among hundreds of readers weighing in on the much-hyped Sacajawea "golden dollar" - 1.4 billion of which were minted in 2000, only to fall through the cracks. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., says despite Uncle Sam's spending $62 million to promote the new golden dollar, he's not once received one in change, has never seen one in circulation and knows few people who have. Well, counters Robert Reed of Sacramento, Calif., "I bought a (U.S. Postal Service) priority envelope for $3.50 the other day, and the postage machine returned the change for my ($20) bill in Sacajawea coins." That was just the beginning. "I needed the change for return fare on the local light rail, but the ticket dispenser didn't recognize the coins," he says. "I went to a nearby minimart, and the clerk refused to accept them as legal tender for my purchase, never mind change. His response was, 'Customers don't want them.' I'm not sure whether this policy was legal, but I had neither the time or inclination to press matters." The main objection Roger K. Layman has to Sacajawea, named in honor of the 15-year-old Shoshone Indian mother who served as a guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, is that it's too close in size to a quarter. Ramon J. Fernandez, of Maryland, wishes to inform the senator that dollar coins will always fail as long as this country continues printing the dollar bill. "Canada had it right by ridding themselves of the paper dollar when they issued their dollar coin," he says. "Every summer, I spend three months in Canada and I find no particular inconvenience in carrying the $1 coin (the 'loony') and the $2 coin (the 'toony.')" Finally, Douglas Morgan, of Havelock, N.C., challenges the assertion of a fellow reader that "the Treasury could put a Hooters Girl on the next dollar, and it would still fail." "Let's try it and see," suggests Morgan. "On second thought, the possibility of Bill Clinton desperately angling for the job of Treasury secretary is just too nauseating a notion. Skip it." WELCH AID Aiming to win back the Senate stolen out from under them, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has brought aboard veteran fund-raiser Ted Welch as its new national finance chairman. "His fund-raising abilities are legendary and he understands how important it is for Republicans to regain the Senate majority," says Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and NRSC chairman. One-time Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour calls Welch "a real catch." Along with fellow Tennessean and former Sen. Howard Baker, Welch in 1981 founded the Republican Majority Fund, which soon became the second-largest political action committee in the country. Most recently, he served on the executive committee of the Bush for President Finance Committee. The New York Times Magazine has called Welch "perhaps the best political fund-raiser ever." TV NEW TRIVIALITY Thirty years after being awarded a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Wolf Blitzer returned to his alma mater to deliver its commencement address and to say he was sorry. "Indeed, in looking back on the weeks and months that preceded Sept. 11, I must say, I - like so many of my journalistic colleagues - was embarrassed. We often neglected important news, especially from overseas, in favor of the softer yet perhaps more popular news," said the CNN correspondent. "Wasn't last summer dubbed the Summer of the Shark? And how much time did we devote to the trials and tribulations of a smooth and handsome congressman from California named Gary Condit?" That's because television journalists, in particular, Blitzer said, grew "fat and happy." "We often felt we could afford the luxury of focusing on the less important, perhaps even the trivial," he said. Spending several minutes reflecting on the world today, the popular TV newsman referred to the post-Sept. 11 era as "an incredibly difficult and dangerous time." The day the hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center, he said, was a turning point in his life, "similar to the feeling I had in 1963 when I was in high school and learned that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. "My youthful naiveté was punctured that day," Blitzer said. "To a certain degree, my adult naiveté was punctured on Sept. 11." And while he wants to think the broadcast news industry learned an important lesson from Sept. 11, he is already seeing signs of slippage in the TV news industry. "There is still the occasional tendency - despite Sept. 11 - to devote too much time to the perhaps compelling, but not really all that significant, news developments: a has-been actor (Robert Blake) charged with murdering his wife in Los Angeles; a Kennedy cousin (Michael Skakel) charged with murdering a young girl in the neighborhood 20 years ago," he explained. Instead, Blitzer said, the war against terrorism that the U.S. is fighting should allow little time, if any, for trivial news coverage. "As bad as the situation is right now, it easily can get a whole lot worse," he warned. "That's why it's so important that the Bush administration remains actively engaged; without high-level U.S. involvement, it will get worse - much worse." DUBYA CALLS Young Americans, for once, want Uncle Sam. More than half of young people canvassed in a new Hart-Teeter Poll released Tuesday say they would give serious consideration to a request for government service coming from President Bush or Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Young people in the South are especially interested in hearing from Bush and Powell," finds the poll, commissioned by the Council for Excellence in Government. Overall, the poll finds that young Americans' interest in government service has grown over the past five years, with 40 percent deeming it fairly or very appealing, compared to 35 percent just five years ago. And interest in government service is motivated much more by a sense of "public spirit" than was the case in 1997, when 53 percent found good compensation and job security the most appealing features, compared to 40 percent who cited helping people or serving their community or country. Now the motivations are reversed: 54 percent find helping people or serving the community appealing, while just 42 percent look to personal economic reward or security. The council released the poll on a day when it honored Powell, former Secretary of State George P. Schultz, and former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alice M. Rivlin as three of this nation's distinguished government leaders. WATERGATE REDUX A 30th anniversary falls on June 17, although, as in past years, there's little to celebrate. Yes, it was nearly three decades ago - June 17, 1972 - that burglars broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex and made H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean all household names. Of course, there will be numerous observances of the Watergate anniversary, not the least of which will be held in the grand ballroom of the Watergate Hotel on June 13. There, the Discovery Channel will hold a cocktail reception and show a private screening of 18 minutes of never-before-seen footage, providing "new details" surrounding one of the greatest scandals in the history of the American presidency. (No, "Deep Throat" will not be revealed. However, we recall that former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean last month said he will reveal in June who he believes was Deep Throat, the anonymous Watergate informant.) For those not invited to the Watergate party, on June 17 the Discovery Channel will telecast world premieres of two programs, which will include the famous Richard Nixon-David Frost interviews that have been in reserve for 25 years.