LETTER FROM WASHINGTON DANA WILKIE
It's in the mail

June 20, 2005

It's hard enough to get people to the polls Election Day without long, slow lines to discourage them even more. But lines and delays are what many voters encountered last November when they went to cast their ballots for president.

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Whatever the reason – new electronic voting machines, hyped attention to potential fraud – Rep. Susan Davis believes she has the antidote: the mail-in ballot.

California is one of 25 states that allow any voter to mail in his or her ballot, but 24 states grant this privilege only to certain people, such as the elderly, the disabled and those in the military. All voters in Oregon mail in their ballots. Davis' "Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act" – which would expand the right to all voters – could encounter the same GOP resistance that past Democrat-backed vote-by-mail efforts ran into. Republicans see this as a way to boost turnout for Democrats, who can't seem to get themselves to the polls in the same numbers as Republicans.

A SONG IN HIS HEART

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, he of house and boat controversy of late, usually supports President Bush. But that doesn't mean the congressman is beyond calling Bush budget officials "bean counters" who wouldn't recognize a worthy program if it slapped them in the face.

That, essentially, was the Rancho Santa Fe Republican's message to House colleagues recently when he argued that the White House should restore funding for Even Start, the federally funded program that encourages literacy, good parenting, self-sufficiency, and social and emotional maturity in low-income families with children 7 and younger.

The program regularly appears on the president's chopping block, along with the argument that federal studies indicate it is not terribly successful at helping participants become literate or self-sufficient.

To make the case to House colleagues that the program should be salvaged, Cunningham quoted lyrics from – of all people – anti-war activist Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Yarrow, an Even Start supporter, performs an anti-bullying song called "Don't Laugh at Me" to counter peer disrespect among children.

This, of course, was back when life was more fun for Duke, some days before he became a national poster child for questionable congressional ethics.

"My wife asked me to go listen to a man one year . . . (and) I said, 'Who is Peter Yarrow?' " Cunningham told his colleagues. "She said, 'Peter, Paul and Mary, Peter Yarrow.' I said, 'That anti-war, left-wing guy? I am not going to go listen to him.' And she said, 'Well, honey, I support you and your events. Go to this thing with me.' I did, and . . . he is one of the most caring people that we have ever met, especially when it comes to children and children's programs."

A VETERAN MOVE

It is no secret that over the years, the blood has sometimes been bad between Reps. Cunningham and Bob Filner. In years prior, some observers even blamed the San Diego congressional delegation's lack of cohesion in part on the sour relationship between Cunningham, the conservative war hero, and Filner, a cerebral history professor and proud liberal.

But a shared mission has turned these sometime adversaries into actual working colleagues.

The common thread?

Veterans.

Cunningham was a highly decorated Vietnam War fighter pilot and claims to be the inspiration for the hit movie "Top Gun." Filner advocates for veterans in his position as the second-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Together, the congressmen have introduced the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2005 to recognize Filipino veterans of World War II and to secure benefits for them.

TALK ISN'T CHEAP

When the Congressional Record complains about the cost of printing your remarks, is it possible you've become too . . . enthusiastic about your speechifying? A congressional record entry last April indicates that Congress gave Filner permission "to include extraneous material" in the record, "notwithstanding the fact that it exceeds two pages of the record and is estimated by the public printer to cost $1,807."

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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