Drug Czar Vacancy Exposes Policy Divide in GOP

Drug Czar Vacancy Exposes Policy Divide in GOP
Posted by FoM on February 23, 2001 at 11:23:57 PT
By Frank Davies
Source: Miami Herald 
After a month in office, President Bush has not named anyone to be the nation's drug czar, and the vacancy is exposing divisions among GOP leaders over how the drug war should be fought and who should lead it.Since taking office, the president has said little on drug issues. In a January interview, he questioned long minimum sentences for first-time drug users.
When a top administration official was asked recently about the delay in appointing a drug czar, the response was curt: ``On the drug czar, we'll get back to you. The president is paying full attention to it. I am sure that he will have an answer for you soon.''Some Republicans, conservative groups and issue activists worry that the president may attach less visibility to the drug-fighting efforts, from interdiction to criminal penalties and treatment.``It's time to use the bully pulpit again and re-engage the public debate on these issues,'' said William Bennett, who in 1989 became the country's first Cabinet-level drug czar.Bennett sounded an alarm about drug policy last week in an opinion column in The Washington Post that challenged critics of mandatory criminal penalties on users.In a CNN interview last month, Bush seemed to side with some GOP governors by questioning long jail sentences, favoring more resources for drug treatment and seeking to end the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine.Minimum Sentences:``A lot of people are coming to the realization that long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space or heal people from their disease,'' Bush said. ``And I'm willing to look at that.''In his opinion piece last Sunday, Bennett warned that efforts to roll back criminal penalties would remove an important element that can deter drug use and coerce some users into treatment.Bennett is not the only person concerned about what direction drug policy may take.Robert Maginnis, a vice president of the Family Research Council, noted that Bush met with the president of Mexico and will meet with the president of Colombia without a drug czar to coordinate administration policy.``I've heard a lot about tax cuts [from the administration] but not drug policy,'' said Maginnis. ``I'm concerned because every day that's lost will have an impact on a few more kids.''Maginnis admits he has a personal interest in the issue. A retired Army colonel and Pentagon inspector general, he's in the running for the job. According to Republicans on Capitol Hill, so are Bill McCollum, the former Central Florida congressman who lost a Senate race in November, and James McDonough, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's drug policy coordinator.Anti-Drug Groups:The drug czar vacancy has also mobilized several anti-drug groups. Judy Kramer of Illinois, who recently founded a grassroots group called Educating Voices, successfully lobbied Speaker Dennis Hastert to support Maginnis for the job.A staffer for Hastert confirmed that the speaker endorsed Maginnis and put in a good word for him with Clay Johnson, Bushs deputy chief of staff.Kramer said the drug problem requires urgent attention: ``There are foot soldiers out were just waiting for our marching orders.''It's no surprise that drug policy would be the subject of debate in the Bush administration. Bush's Cabinet includes people with decidedly different approaches to the drug problem.Attorney General John Ashcroft, after his Senate confirmation to fill the top Justice Department post, said ``reinvigorating the drug war'' was one of his top priorities. He strongly supports lengthy mandatory sentences for users.Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, as Wisconsin governor, backed some needle-exchange programs to prevent the spread of disease among addicts -- a move strongly opposed by Ashcroft.`Demand Problem'Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the drug problem is ``overwhelmingly a demand problem'' and questioned the need for more military involvement in cutting off supply.Outside the administration, Republicans are also split. Some GOP governors such as George Pataki of New York favor reducing mandatory sentences for users.Conservative guru William Buckley has been critical of U.S. involvement in Colombia and praised governors who emphasize ``treatment instead of incarceration.''Some Florida Republicans who want to see more emphasis on stopping drugs from entering the country have joined the debate.``I'm hopeful we will see more done on interdiction,'' said Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. ``We have to attack supply and demand.''McDonough, who watched Washington turf wars as drug czar Barry McCaffreys chief of strategy, said that ``whats happening now is a power vacuum, with people rushing in to fill it.''Some congressional Republicans also worry that the job may be de-emphasized, given the strong personalities of other top administration officials. That happened after Bennett left the job and was succeeded by Bob Martinez, the former Florida governor who did not have a high profile.McCollum and McDonough, in separate interviews, would not discuss their own prospects for the job, but had similar thoughts about the post itself.Clout Needed:``It would be a mistake to take it below Cabinet level -- it's important to have that clout,'' said McCollum, who chaired the House crime subcommittee since 1995.McDonough said: ``You need that clout if you're going to get the attention of the secretary of Defense or State.''Bennett said Bush's father had made it clear to other administration officials that Bennett was in charge of drug policy.``President Bush [in 1989] took me to a Cabinet meeting, put his arm around me and said, `This is an important job -- when this guy calls you, I want you to return his calls,' '' recalled Bennett.Bennett suggested that differing views will make the new drug czar's job difficult.Said Bennett: ``These are strong men and the new drug czar had better be someone who is not a pansy, who can hold his own.''Note: Conservatives worry that Bush may lack zeal in narcotics battle.Source: Miami Herald (FL)Author: Frank DaviesPublished: Friday, February 23, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Miami HeraldAddress: One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693Fax: (305) 376-8950Contact: heralded herald.comWebsite: Articles:Romley Mum on Drug Czar Job Has No Drug Czar Romley Being Considered for U.S. Drug Czar Suggests Johnson for Drug Czar
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Comment #3 posted by CorvallisEric on February 23, 2001 at 19:20:25 PT
The best anti
Can't decide, but find the lunatic idea interesting. The problem with Bennett is that he is quite intelligent and isn't a totally consistent right-winger - he opposed Calif. Proposition 187 which could be called a "harm maximizer" for the innocent children of illegal aliens. The Floridians might be a better choice. McCollum did everything politically feasible for his cause in the House.McDonough wanted to try Fusarium oxysporum fungus on marijuana crops in Florida.
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Comment #2 posted by schmeff c. on February 23, 2001 at 13:17:59 PT
You may well get your way, Kaptain...
...if the righteous Mr. Bennett returns for a second engagement.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 23, 2001 at 12:26:12 PT:
Please God, let it be an anti!
No, I'm not bonkers.The tide is indeed changing. The pols are proving with each passing day how out of step they are with the rest of the country. Ask any 10 people at random going into theaters where the movie Traffic is being shown if they support the DrugWar, and they'll probably look at you look at you as if you're nuts. Of course they do many will say, because they haven't quite given much thought about it. Then ask 10 at random coming out if they believe the DrugWar is a success, and you'll get the same "Are you crazy?" looks...but for different reasons. Reasons stemming from exposure to concepts that the antis have strove mightily for years to keep from Mr. and Ms. Middle Class America. Concepts that challenge the very core rationale of the DrugWar...and cast doubts upon the public pronouncements of those who were entrusted by them to do the job.People are slowly, fitfully, waking up. And they want honest answers. Answers the antis can't afford to give. Answers that spell the doom of the DrugWar. Yes, I want the absolutely worst foaming-and-fulminating anti ever sired on the DrugWar-Whore-of-Babylon to get the job. I want a ranter-and-raver to make a spectacle of himself. Because when the public's patience with this insanity finally blows up, I want the political destruction to be so complete, that, like the cracker segregationists of old, no anti would ever dare open his or her mouth in public, ever again.
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