Dispatches > The Buzz

Flash Traffic

Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "Finding the Best in the Worst," Dec. 15, 2001

If President Bush asks him, former Rep. Rick Lazio will very likely run again for his Long Island congressional seat. After losing a bruising Senate campaign to Hillary Clinton last year, Lazio has had little personal interest in returning to Washington. He's making some money as CEO of the Financial Services Forum, a New York-based think tank and advocacy group organized by a group of Wall Street CEOs. But Lazio has told close friends in recent days that he does still have a heart for public service, and if the president insists the party needs him, he would find it hard to say no. For months, House leaders have been privately urging Lazio to challenge Democratic Rep. Steve Israel and help boost their razor-thin House majority. A new internal NRCC poll-just out of the field-finds Lazio defeating Israel decisively. It also shows Lazio is the only candidate who could win the race. GOP strategists worry that if Lazio doesn't run, and the GOP loses the Democrat-leaning seat again, it could be lost for decades to come. Cutting taxes and holding the line on spending are likely to be key Republican themes in 2002. Why then has President Bush just tapped former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to be chairman of the Republican National Committee? Racicot received a "D" on the CATO Institute's fiscal report card. A February 2001 report by CATO Institute economists dubbed Racicot "a fiscally left-of-center Republican" whose "first proposal was to create a 4 percent state sales tax, which the voters rejected by 3-to-1.... His fall back was an income tax hike, which voters also rejected." Racicot did eventually cut taxes with surplus revenue from a booming state economy, but CATO says that under Racicot, "spending has grown twice as fast as inflation and population growth during his tenure." Nevertheless, Racicot is "extremely pro-life," says Steven Ertelt of Montana Right to Life. As governor, Racicot signed a parental notification law, an informed consent (or "right to know") law, and a law preventing non-doctors from performing abortions. In 1997, he also signed a ban on partial-birth abortions-a "true ban," Ertelt says-that was challenged by Planned Parenthood and overturned by the courts. Racicot also named two pro-life running mates during his tenure. The first, Dennis Rehberg, is now the state's pro-life congressman. The other, Judy Martz, is now the state's pro-life governor. Racicot's job becomes official when party leaders OK his selection next month. All this follows the saga dubbed "Unhappy Gilmore" by Washington insiders. Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore resigned as RNC chairman in November after presiding over the loss of the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and his home state. Trial lawyers who fought a massive class-action lawsuit against the tobacco companies will walk away with legal fees worth more than $14 billion, according to a new study posted at triallawyermoney.org. Moreover, that number is expected to rise dramatically because attorneys' fees in 13 states have not yet been decided. Given the history of political donations by trial lawyers, GOP strategists now worry a significant amount of these lawyer fees could be reinvested into the coffers of the Democratic Party, severely threatening GOP dominance at the state and national levels. At least 20 of the top 25 recipients of trial lawyer money in recent years have been Democratic candidates or Democratic campaign committees. In the 2000 cycle, for example, the Democratic Senatorial Committee received more than $1.8 million in contributions from trial lawyers. The Democratic National Committee received almost $1.5 million. The Gore campaign received more than $1.2 million. The Bush campaign, by contrast, received just $360,074 from trial lawyers.

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Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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