Plane talk crashes in Hawaii and Washington
Airplane privileges became the flash point for politicians this week.
EVENTS in the Legislature and Congress this week prove that the subject of airplane privileges pulls out the latent pettiness in politics. In Washington, House Republicans -- perhaps needing release from pent-up frustrations of their new minority-party status -- took a poke at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing the Democrat of seeking upgrades of the plane she is entitled to as No. 2 in succession to the presidency.
Meanwhile, state legislators, in a fumbled attempt in the Senate to embarrass Gov. Linda Lingle, dumped their proposals to spend $1.9 million for an aircraft to shuttle officials around, after the idea was criticized as unnecessary and costly.
But in making mischief, members of the U.S. House, enabled by the Republican National Committee, topped local lawmakers.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert was provided with a military plane to fly him home to Illinois. However, that plane could not fly nonstop to California where Pelosi resides, so the House sergeant-at-arms, a GOP appointee in charge of security, requested a larger one.
Though fully aware of the circumstances, Republicans took to the House floor to denounce Pelosi, going so far as to submit an amendment to a renewable energy bill that called for a decreased demand for jet fuel for the specific type of plane she could have been assigned. Simultaneously, the RNC put out talking points to House members and GOP-sympathetic media outlets, resulting in a derisive headline in the Washington Times that read "nonstop Nancy seeks flights of fancy."
Democrats, not to be outdone in pettiness, responded by demanding the White House hand over complete accounts of President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's use of government planes.
With politics making for odd bedfellows, it was the Bush administration that came to Pelosi's defense. White House spokesman Tony Snow called the situation "silly," and went on to say that Republican criticism of Pelosi was unfair.
Even that didn't quiet Arizona Rep. John Shadegg, who slapped Snow down, declaring pompously that the spokesman does not have the duty Congress does to watch out for taxpayers.
Watching out for taxpayers is the reason Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu gave for submitting the bill to buy a plane for Hawaii state officials. Karamatsu said he was just trying to save money, but House leaders, aware of the brouhaha that erupted when the Senate conducted a hearing on a companion measure, said they would not advance their version.
The Senate also killed its bill, though not before Sen. J. Kalani English tried to link it to Lingle, saying he thought it was part of the governor's legislative package. That wasn't true, but in politics, truth sometimes takes flight.