Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Musical chairs could begin on Capitol Hill

Could it be time for a big game of musical chairs in Washington?

Word is bubbling up from beltway sources that a set of dominos is about ready to tumble, all as fallout from the recent defection of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords from the Republican Party. His move to independent status, of course, tossed control of the Senate to Democrats with whom he has a like mind when it comes to most federal legislation.

It could be the wishful thinking of GOPers, or a horror scenario for the Dems, but here is how a complicated set of moves could change everything on Capitol Hill, eventually affecting Blade readers in Michigan:

  • New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat, under fire for alleged breaches of ethics laws, begins to get hammered by the U.S. Justice Department, now under the direction of conservative John Ashcroft. Under pressure and facing insurmountable odds for political survival, he resigns as part of a deal to avoid jail.

  • Acting New Jersey Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, a Republican, who took over when Christie Todd Whitman left to join the Bush administration, helps his old boss out by getting her out of what has become a hot seat as head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He appoints her to fill Mr. Torricelli's vacant seat in the Senate, thereby tipping the scales of control back in favor of Republicans.

    Liberal Republican Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island announced last week - apparently out of the blue - that if Republicans retook control of the Senate, he might then pull a Jeffords and bolt the Republican Party to yet again give control to Democrats. While this scenario was never cited by reporters covering the Chaffee declaration, might it be the reason he made his surprise announcement?

  • Michigan Gov. John Engler, who is facing the end of his third term next year and is looking for something to do, is appointed by President Bush to the EPA slot.

  • Michigan Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus becomes governor, giving him plenty of time to establish identity in the job before next year's election.

    Mr. Posthumus lags badly behind leading Democrats in early polls in the gubernatorial race, and he could use every possible benefit to make up ground. Setting up housekeeping in the governor's mansion 16 months before Election Day could do nothing but help.

    Interesting as they are, when these scenarios start popping to the surface, you don't have to look at your calendar to tell it's getting into the slow summer season in Washington.

    Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said during a recent visit to Cleveland that he would love to come back to that city for the party's national convention in 2004.

    The DNC will entertain proposals starting next year.

    Mr. McAuliffe, a close friend of former President Clinton, said he abhorred the way former Vice President Gore ignored Ohio for the last month of the campaign last year. It likely cost him the presidency.

    The DNC chairman said Dems would never treat Ohioans like that again.

    Mr. Gore's last appearance in Ohio came at a rally in downtown Warren, the day after his first head-to-head debate with George W. Bush and a full month before the election. There was a lot of energy at that rally, and maybe the vice president thought he had the state locked up.

    He didn't. Hindsight shows us Mr. Gore bungled his pre-election scheduling in three key states. He spent way too much time and money in Florida, and nowhere near enough time in his home state of Tennessee or in Ohio. He lost all three states.

    It may have been simple luck, but Republican George Sarantou and Toledo Councilman Rob Ludeman sure looked smart for calling for improvements to I-75 downtown when they did.

    They held a press conference on a hill overlooking a stretch of the interstate highway near curves where death and serious injury have been the result of several recent traffic accidents.

    Unbanked turns and wet pavement after rains, they said, were making the route unsafe.

    Mr. Sarantou, a longtime community activist who is making his second run for an at-large seat on council, called for the city and state highway department to work with federal officials to make the highway safer.

    They suggested flashing lights, a reduction in the speed limit, and rumble strips across the roadway as practical and inexpensive measures to save lives.

    Not long after their roadside news conference, the state announced it would take steps to improve safety there. The improvements - including warning signs and non-skid pavement - were probably in the works before Mr. Sarantou and Mr. Ludeman got into the act, but their timing couldn't have been better.

    The signs should show up soon.

    Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at

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