Impeachment's legacy

Susan Carpenter McMillan, the former spokeswoman for Paula Jones, is being wooed by California Republicans hungry for candidates.

By Anthony York

Published May 21, 1999 8:11AM (EDT)

While impeachment may have signaled the beginning of the end of President Clinton's political career, some of the scandal's bit players are using their 15 minutes of scandal-sponsored fame as a springboard to launch their own political careers.

Last March, Barbara Battalino, who was convicted of perjury for lying about sex and testified before the Judiciary Committee during Clinton's impeachment hearings, announced her candidacy for the U.S. House seat currently held by Democrat Lois Capps of Santa Barbara. Now, Paula Jones' spokeswoman Susan Carpenter McMillan, a familiar face on the cable news talk show circuit during Jones' sexual harassment case, is mulling a run for the California Legislature, she told Salon News on Friday.

"I've met with a lot of people," McMillan said. "I still haven't made up my mind." She is considering running for either the state Senate or the Assembly. Both seats in her area are likely to be vacated by incumbents.

The Democratic incumbent for the Senate seat, Adam Schiff, is foregoing reelection to run for the Los Angeles-area U.S. House seat against Rep. Jim Rogan. The Senate district encompasses all of Rogan's congressional district, and local Democrats are giddy with the possibility that a player in the impeachment trial might run an overlapping campaign with Rogan, one of the Republican managers during Clinton's Senate trial.

Lyn Shaw, vice-chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, said she hoped McMillan would decide to run. "I think it's wonderful. It seems like it would bring out a lot of bodies to walk precincts (for Democrats) in our district." Offering a bit of early campaign strategy, Shaw said, "There would certainly be efforts to link (Rogan and McMillan), and tie them both into the right wing of the Republican party. We're wondering what we can do as Democrats to encourage her to run."

McMillan said she is ready for anything the Democrats can throw at her. "I have already been told that the Democrats will run the dirtiest, most vicious campaign possible," she said. "I would put nothing past the Democrats, and I will prepare myself for every dirty sling and arrow. I'm always energized by this kind of thing."

McMillan could bring some celebrity pizazz to a legislative race that is a top priority for California Republicans, and to an area that will be a hotbed of political activity next November. Though known most recently for her role as the mouthpiece for Jones, McMillan first made a name for herself as a media representative for the Right to Life League of Southern California. She stirred national controversy in 1990 after admitting she had had an abortion in 1970 and had kept it secret for 20 years.

"I'm loved by no one and hated by everyone," she told the Los Angeles Times shortly after the public airing of her dirty laundry. "I'm not conservative enough for the right wing. God knows, I'm not liberal enough for the left wing. I'm a feminist who's pro-life, so I manage to piss off everyone."

Or it could mean that she's the kind of candidate that local Republicans are hoping to package as a moderate. McMillan said she would not back down from her abortion views if she did decide to run for office. "Probably 80 percent of the constituency in this district wants abortion legal in some fashion," she allowed. "That same 80 percent wants late-term abortions outlawed. Instead of focusing in on something I can do nothing about, my main concern would be to focus on an area where each state is allowed to do something -- and that's on the last trimester."

Stuart Devaux, communications director for the California Republican Party, said he knew nothing of McMillan's possible candidacy. "I hear a lot of things. What matters to me is what comes true on the filing deadline," he said.

But the state party plays a limited role in primary elections. Most of the recruitment for senate races is done by leaders of the Senate Republican caucus. Earlier this month, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Brulte made waves when he announced he would dedicate money and resources to women and minority candidates in contested Republican primaries.

McMillan said her appeal as a woman would go a long way to help reshape the image of the local Republican Party as an exclusive club of white men. "Even though I'm a very strong Republican, I've always been a very strong feminist," she said. "I think that women bring a lot to the table that maybe men don't. I just feel it's really important now that women not be seen as the silent majority within the Republican Party."

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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