Inside Report: Arkansas challenger

Posted: Dec 02, 2000 12:00 AM
James Lee Witt, President Clinton's director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who inadvertently became an issue in the 2000 presidential campaign, may return to Arkansas to run against Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson in 2002. Al Gore was embarrassed in his first presidential debate with George W. Bush by incorrectly saying he accompanied Witt on an inspection trip of severe flooding in Texas. Witt, who holds Cabinet rank in the Clinton administration, got high marks by acting in a nonpartisan way in distributing federal disaster aid. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, another Clinton Cabinet member from Arkansas, is also a possibility to challenge Hutchinson. He would be the first African-American nominated for major statewide office in Arkansas by either Democrats or Republicans. SUBVERTING ELECTORS WASHINGTON -- Republican electors pledged to support George W. Bush for president are being lobbied by Democratic and labor union activists to support Al Gore instead. One Southern elector with close ties to Gov. Bush has received three Democratic letters urging him to vote for Vice President Gore as winner of the national popular vote. A Texas elector was approached by an AFL-CIO official, who urged him to switch his vote. If Bush gets Florida's 25 electors for a bare winning majority of 271, Democrats need convert only two of them to elect Gore as president. But there is no modern record of an elector voting for the candidate of the opposing party. WHERE WAS CHRISTOPHER? The sudden disappearance of Warren Christopher, senior "observer" for Al Gore in the Florida recount, resulted from family and personal problems rather than his disaffection with the process. Former Secretary of State Christopher had to return home to California because of a daughter's illness. After Thanksgiving, doctors barred the 75-year-old Los Angeles super-lawyer from flying back across the country to Florida because of a bronchial condition. Actually, the spokesman's role previously exercised by Christopher and Gore campaign chairman William Daley has been taken by Vice President Gore himself. Gore had been micro-managing the recount behind the scenes but decided to assume the public role as well when national polls showed 60 percent of voters desiring him to concede the election. NOT FOR NUNN When Democratic former Sen. Sam Nunn was felt out as the possible secretary of defense for George W. Bush, he told a Republican friend that he was making too much money and having too much fun doing it to return to public service. Nunn also confided how much he enjoyed working with his fellow Georgian, billionaire CNN founder Ted Turner, in providing aid to Russia. Bush insiders speculate that Nunn did not want to play a secondary role in national security behind Dick Cheney as vice president and Colin Powell as secretary of state. There were simultaneous second thoughts among Bush insiders who earlier boosted Nunn for the Pentagon. He opposes a national missile defense system, which is a major Bush defense initiative, and conservatives had started lobbying against Nunn for the Pentagon before he pulled himself out. ANTI-MILITARY VOTING In the wake of the fight over Florida's absentee military ballots, congressional Republican efforts to make it easier for overseas service personnel to vote are running into one of Capitol Hill's most powerful Republican figures: Rep. Bill Thomas of California. During the past two sessions of Congress, the Senate amended the Defense Department's authorization bill to make clear that a member of the armed forces would not lose the right to vote because of military service. Thomas has stripped this provision from the bill, arguing that states have the pre-eminent authority to write their own election laws. Thomas has been chairman of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over voting laws. He is in hotly contested competition with Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois to be chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress.