Union Tribune

May 21, 2002

GOP backs Hunter for key House committee


WASHINGTON Rep. Duncan Hunter's selection as chairman of
the House Armed Services Committee next year became more
likely yesterday when the El Cajon Republican's only known rival
for the influential post bowed out.

After reportedly exploring a possible bid for the chairmanship,
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., initiated a letter from the committee
Republicans pledging to support Hunter, who is second in
seniority behind the retiring chairman, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz.

"We feel confident that you are the right person to lead the
committee during this crucial period in our history," said the
letter, which surfaced yesterday. "We welcome the opportunity
to work together under your active leadership to properly
support our troops and improve our national security."

The letter has been signed by 24 of Hunter's 31 GOP colleagues
on the Armed Services Committee.

Hunter noted, "it's a long way from here to January," when a new
chairman would take over. His selection would be blocked if
Republicans lose control of the House, where they have an
11-seat margin.

Although he has a long list of things he would try to accomplish
if he became chairman, Hunter said, "what we have to do now, is
keep our eyes on the ball and help the president win this war on
terrorism, to make sure we have the tools to get the job done."

"That means funding the right weapon systems and having
enough overall funding to modernize our military," he said.

Hunter, an Army veteran of Vietnam, has been a champion of
increased defense spending and particularly of programs helpful
to the Navy and the San Diego shipbuilding and repair firms.

He could be even more helpful as committee chairman.

"It's definitely a positive thing for the San Diego region," said
Mitch Mitchell, military affairs chairman for the San Diego
Chamber of Commerce.

Committee chairmen are selected by party leaders, not by
committee members. Hunter has the advantage of his seniority
and his generally good standing with House GOP leaders.

When the former chairman, the late Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C.,
stepped down two years ago, Weldon challenged Stump for the
post, even though he was fifth in GOP seniority. Hunter
supported Stump, who won easily.

Since then, Hunter has worked to improve his party standing by
forming a political action committee and promising to raise
substantial sums to help elect Republicans this fall.