San Diego Union Tribune

July 30, 2007

LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
Double the obscurity

It was probably humbling enough for Duncan Hunter to be reminded during an MSNBC interview last week that a Newsweek poll puts the Alpine congressman at the bottom of the GOP presidential pack, with “zero” percent support among American voters.


 

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To be entirely fair, the former House Armed Services chairman didn't really get zero support in the poll of 324 registered Republicans and Republican-leaning voters. The poll gave Hunter an asterisk in the column indicating what percentage of respondents would like to see him nominated as the next Republican candidate for the White House. The asterisk indicates support of less than half a percentage point. And Hunter wasn't alone. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who recently dropped out of the race, got the same ranking.

Oh man, but then MSNBC had to go and twist the knife. Up on the screen popped a chart with the candidates' names and pictures. Hunter's name was there all right, right next to a picture of – Lord knows who. We only know that it wasn't the congressman.

CLOSE TO HOME

One supposes Hillary Rodham Clinton must tread lightly during her presidential campaign when it comes to the issue of martial infidelity – whether it's the infidelity that led to husband Bill's impeachment or anyone else's for that matter.

The whole messy topic was shoved in the New York senator's face last week as she accepted the endorsement of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The women, both Democrats, spoke with reporters during a conference phone call and discussed their mutual work in the Senate, their mutual admiration for each other, their mutual desire to see the country on a better track. In other words, the phone call had all the elements one expects from these intensely orchestrated announcements.

But then came this unexpected question from one reporter: What did Clinton think of the “personal morality” issues surrounding another of her prominent California supporters: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The married mayor recently confirmed an affair with Telemundo reporter Mirthala Salinas. His marriage is now seriously on the rocks.

Before Clinton could respond, Feinstein pounced on the reporter with a tone of maternal scolding.

“I'm surprised at you for that question,” the senator said. “My goodness. She's running for president of the United States. She doesn't need to get into this.” But when the reporter persisted, Clinton stepped in with the sort of elusive reply so perfected by politicians of her stature.

“I . . . am well aware that he is the mayor of our second largest city,” Clinton said. “I think his work on behalf of the many issues that I care about is very significant. So I will continue to welcome his support and look for ways that I can learn about what's going on in Los Angeles.”

WAIVER WOES

From the perspective of some, Thursday's Senate hearing on California's plea for a federal waiver to enforce its own vehicle emissions standards made it mighty clear how the EPA plans to rule on the matter.

In testimony before California Sen. Barbara Boxer's Environment & Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson used the majority of his testimony to explain that his agency “is working to develop a proposed rule for the federal regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles” – one he expects to unveil at the end of 2008.

Johnson's agency must decide whether to give California a waiver so it can enforce a law that would cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 25 percent from cars and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting in 2009. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatens to sue the EPA if it does not rule on the waiver by Oct. 1, but Johnson has said he will make a decision by year's end.

“EPA appears to be telegraphing that it will deny California's request on the basis that it is developing national standards,” said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Watch. “A shameless political move.”

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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