Bush stalls death machine

Texas governor grants his first reprieve as presidential poll numbers tighten. Gore grilled on fat cat's contract, and Democrats loudly grieve Tito Puente.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published June 1, 2000 3:11PM (EDT)

George W. Bush has supervised 131 executions as Texas governor without once granting a 30-day reprieve ... until now. Hours before Ricky McGinn would have become No. 132, Bush recommended the delay in response to the convict's request for DNA testing of the evidence against him, according to CNN.

In 1995, McGinn was found guilty of the rape and murder of his stepdaughter, Stephanie Flanary. Though prosecutors claimed that their genetic tests proved McGinn's guilt, his defenders question the accuracy of those results.

Bush's capital punishment record has received increased attention recently, due to the large number of executions in Texas and exonerations of death row prisoners in other states. Last month, Bush declared his support for the tests in capital cases.

Presidential poll gap closes
The vice president has stopped the bleeding. According to a new joint Reuters/Zogby International survey, Al Gore's post-primary slide in the polls has ended, with Bush and Gore currently in a statistical dead heat.

The Republican leads the vice president 42 percent to 41 percent, a difference within the survey's three percent margin of error. Gore picked up support among independents and highly coveted women voters, causing the much mourned gender gap to reemerge. "This should continue to be close throughout the summer," says pollster John Zogby. "Gore is doing what he needs to do to keep the race competitive. He has made improvements among key Democratic groups such as women and minorities. He also is now tied among parents with children under 17 living at home."

But there are dark clouds on the horizon for Gore, who may be more vulnerable to third-party challenges than Bush. "With Ralph Nader in the race," Zogby added, "the consumer advocate grabs 12.8 percent of the progressive vote and that is all coming from Gore." The vice president is also relatively weak in labor households alienated by his support for normal trade relations with China, a view Gore shares with Bush. Teamster president James Hoffa said he will withhold his union's endorsement from both major party candidates, according to AP.

Did Gore feed a fat cat friend federal dollars?
The newly nice Gore may face some ugly questions about a contributor's contract caper. The Associated Press reports that the Justice Department has uncovered a memo detailing a possible strategy for Gore to steer a $400 million federal contract to a top Democratic donor. The unsigned, undated and unaddressed document declares that "Gore has called or is ready to call" then-General Services Administrator Roger Johnson on behalf of developer Franklin Haney, a longtime friend and donor. The deal would have given Haney, who was acquitted last year on charges of illegal fundraising, favorable lease terms in a federal building. Gore has denied any wrongdoing and any knowledge of the memo.

Dems bury Tito Puente in praise
The Latin music giant's passing did not go unnoticed in political quarters. In addition to the customary presidential bereavement message, the Democratic National Committee issued its own statement, gushing with grief over Puente. DNC official Loretta Sanchez played the party's wailing tone: "With his finger on the pulse of the Latin American musical tradition and his hands on the timbales, his mix of jazz and Latin rhythms stirred our souls for over 50 years." Congressional Democrats like New York Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez picked up the beat. "Tito Puente defined Latin jazz," she said, "but more importantly, he had a strong commitment to the Puerto Rican community and to quality education for our children." Perhaps Puente's appeal didn't cross over among leading Democrats. The mourning memo quoted only Latin American party members.

Lazio "pansy" crack galls gays
Rick Lazio may be the Republicans' flavor of the month, but a remark he made was in poor taste, according to some in the gay community. The Village Voice reports that the New York Senate candidate made an anti-gay slur in an interview with CBS reporter Diana Olick. Responding to her question about how to handle negative campaigning, Lazio explained that the key was to be fair but not weak. "I think you have to be decent." But being decent, Lazio added, "doesn't mean you're a pansy." Though the official definition of "pansy" is a type of flower, it's also a derogatory term for gay men.

Some gay activists believe that Lazio got away with the remark because of society's lingering acceptance of homophobia. "Part of our continuing problem is that gay issues are not yet accepted as core human rights issues by a lot of people," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay lobbying group in New York. "So, if you're 18 percent OK on gay issues, people think you're supportive. For every other significant issue, the bar is much, much higher." But CBS countered that those offended by Lazio's comments were overreacting. "At the time it wasn't thought to be as newsworthy as you think it is," Sandy Genelius, a CBS News spokesperson, told the Village Voice correspondent. The Republican congressman's campaign team was equally dismissive of the notion that Lazio had expressed any anti-gay sentiment. Said campaign spokesman Dan McLagan, "It's a flower."

Bush tough on crime, easy on cops
The Texas governor thinks that Justice Department investigators should hold their fire on local police forces accused of wrongdoing. The Los Angeles Times reports that George W. Bush, in response to a police union survey, called federal supervision of troubled local law enforcement "second-guessing."

"I do not believe the Justice Department should routinely seek to conduct oversight investigations, issue reports or undertake other activity that is designed to function as a review of police operations in states, cities and towns," he said. In recent years, the Justice Department has investigated or mandated reforms at departments in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh and New Jersey in response to allegations of police misconduct.

Ladies still in waiting
This is no "year of the woman" in American politics. Though there's a highly experienced crop of women in both parties, an Associated Press report predicts that no woman will make the shortlist of potential vice presidential nominees. On the Republican side, New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman has been targeted by religious conservatives, and former presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole is thought to be too weak a vote getter. For the Democrats, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein would draw support only from a state Gore should win anyway. No other women are considered serious contenders. To Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, the lack of female vice presidential candidates represents a lost opportunity in an election that many believe will turn on women's vote. "It's ironic that women voters are such a key target group and yet there is so little talk about a woman for V.P.," she said.

Funny business in the presidential campaign
Check out Roll Call for Jake Tapper's take on the trend of marketing candidates.

Talking heads
C-Span's "Washington Journal"
7:00 -- Open Phones and Newspaper Articles
7:30 -- Matthew Miller & Debbie Schlussel, Columnists on the news of the day and national politics
8:30 -- Margaret Cleveland, Granddaughter of Pres. Cleveland, on the 114th Anniversary of the President's White House wedding
9:00 -- Open Phones
9:20 -- Michael McFaul, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Poll positions

Presidential race:
Bush 49 to Gore 39 (Fox May 24- 25).

Bush 47 to Gore 39 (CBS News/New York Times May 10-13).

Bush 49 to Gore 44 (ABC News/Washington Post May 7-10).

Bush 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).

Bush 46 to Gore 45 (Pew Center May 2-6).

Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Voter.com May 1-3).

Bush 46 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1).

Bush 49 to Gore 44 (Gallup/CNN/USA Today April 28-30).

Vice presidential preferences (previous):

Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • John Kaisch, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    On the trail
    Bush: California
    Gore: Washington
    Nader: Washington

    Sound off

    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at alicia@salon.com.

  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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