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Published: Friday, 6/16/2000

Kaptur tackles the politics of petroleum

AS THE price of gas hits $2 per gallon, Rep. Marcy Kaptur says the politics of petroleum is rearing its ugly head.

Miss Kaptur, the Democrat who has represented Toledo for almost two decades, has proposed (several times in committee, she says) a solution to the problem. She has offered amendments to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease the oil supply problem and trigger lower prices. She also favors development of alternative fuels.

She has pressed for government exploration of new fuel technologies, including experimental crops that are high in cellulose and would therefore be good candidates for conversion to fuel.

The proposals have gone nowhere, swatted down by Republicans, she complained from her office in Washington. "There is not an urgency here. There hasn't been for a long time," Miss Kaptur said.

Solving the gas price problem is more complicated than just releasing some of the national oil reserve, but if $2-per-gallon gasoline doesn't create a little urgency among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, maybe the prospect of angry voters outside polling booths in November will.

LOCAL Democrats were out on the street corner in front of Shale's Pharmacy downtown the other day, handing out what they described as "coupons" for a Medicare prescription drug benefit that seniors could count on should Vice President Al Gore be elected president.

The effort, said operative Frank Szollosi, was supposed to coincide with the beginning of an advertising campaign boosting Mr. Gore and his proposal to add prescription drugs as a new component of Medicare. Under the vice president's proposal, prescriptions could be added to Medicare on a voluntary basis for what Mr. Gore calls a "modest" additional premium.

Republicans also support adding prescriptions to Medicare, though their plan is a little different than the one proposed by Mr. Gore.

THE DEMOCRATS also blasted the Social Security reform proposal offered recently by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The back of the prescription drug "coupon" carried ominous messages about what the Bush plan would do: "If you're over 30, Bush will put your money in stock market roulette, forcing deep cuts in Social Security."

Of course, the Bush campaign disagrees that its plan would put retirements in jeopardy.

More than once, the press release describing the street-corner stunt labeled the Bush plan a "risky" scheme, employing a term that has become meaningless from repetition.

Oddly, the negative spin offered by local Democrats comes at a time when Mr. Gore is launching his "prosperity tour" to highlight positive campaign themes.

And the attack by locals comes even as voters seem to be smitten with the Bush proposal to allow individuals to control a part of their Social Security retirement funds.

A recent Zogby Poll showed nearly two-thirds of respondents favored some personal control over Social Security accounts.

JUST IN CASE you hadn't noticed: Bob McCloskey, the Democratic Toledo city councilman who announced about a year ago that he was a candidate for mayor, has now said he is no longer interested in the job.

That leaves just two people who have obvious designs on the 22nd floor of Government Center: Democrats Peter Ujvagi, the president of city council, and Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest.

The two are battling behind the scenes for the best position to launch their candidacies.

The fight is deepening the split in the local Democratic Party, as the "Kest wing" led by operatives John Irish and Domenic Montalto, and the "Ujvagi wing," including city council clerk and former party chairman Mike Beazley, dish dirt on each other.

The real question: Will local Republicans take advantage of the Democratic split by offering a credible mayoral candidate of their own?

BEST tirade of the week: delivered by Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, a Democrat from the Upper Peninsula, who, according to a New York Times account, "seemed especially astonished" that the nuclear lab at Los Alamos, N.M., did not keep track of who removed classified material from a high-security vault.

Twenty-eight people had unsupervised access to the vault.

Two computer disk drives containing extremely sensitive information disappeared from the vault, but no one seems to know where they went.

The congressman noted during a congressional hearing on the matter that even his hometown library in Menominee, Mich., keeps records when someone checks out a book.

Speaking to an investigating committee earlier this week, he said that "most Americans would find it hard to believe that the Menominee public library has a more sophisticated tracking system for Winnie the Pooh than Los Alamos has for highly classified nuclear weapons data."

Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Questions? Comments? Tips? He can be reached via e-mail at Fritz@theblade.com.



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