Washington Prowler

Ridge Crossing

The nation’s greatest secretary of homeland security goes out in churlish style. Plus: The next Ann Richards? Also: Florida Demosclerosis.

By 11.30.04

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HOMELAND ABSURDITY
With Tom Ridge exiting stage left from the troubled Homeland Security Department, another round of guessing who will fill the slot will continue. Even before Ridge made the announcement, it was thought that longtime Bush friend Joe Allbaugh was in line to take over the job. Allbaugh, who oversaw the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the early days of the Bush Administration, but who lately has been in the private sector, is known as a tough administrator, one who would clean up what is considered a growing mess at DHS.

"It's just a huge bureaucracy that people can't seem to get their hands around," says a current senior DHS staffer. "I think we've done the best job we can to get the various parts together under one roof, but it hasn't been smooth or easy. There are still a ton of turf wars breaking out here day in and day out."

DHS is made up of disparate agencies and offices, some of them from other Cabinet level agencies, as well as new offices formed when the department was created a little over two years ago. Since then, DHS has gained a reputation inside the government as a slow-moving bureaucracy that moves quicker when news cameras are around.

On several occasions Ridge held news conferences with little or nothing to report about terrorist threat levels. "It seemed like in the past year or so they were doing things to confirm their existence and importance in the culture of Washington," says a former DHS official. "It is probably a necessary department, but until they get a lot of what they are supposed to be doing right, they shouldn't be out there tooting their horn. Whoever goes there needs to settle things down."

That kind of spotlight-stealing attitude was on full display on Tuesday, when Ridge held a press conference to announce his resignation. The press conference was held despite White House requests that no such event take place, particularly since it was scheduled at about the same time the President was holding a press conference in Canada.

Other names mentioned include Bernard Kerik, interim Minister of the Interior for Iraq and former New York City police commissioner, who did yeoman's work for the Bush campaign during the election cycle. Kerik, like Allbaugh, would present a get-tough attitude for DHS. But Kerik may have his eye on jobs closer to home. Rumor has it that he is eyeing the New Jersey gubernatorial race as an option, although others who know him have said in the past several days he seemed confident that the DHS job was his to lose when Ridge made the leap into the private sector.

WON'T YOU COME HOME, KAY BAILEY...
Look for word to begin leaking out about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's political plans in the coming days. Hutchison has almost $7 million in a federal campaign account that can be used to finance a campaign for statewide office in Texas.

There is a growing speculation that Hutchison wants out of the Senate and into the governor's mansion in Austin.

Current Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who in early 2004 spent extensive time in Washington attempting to raise his political visibility and national fundraising appeal, is expected to run for re-election. Hutchison, though, is popular in the state, and in some quarters more popular than Perry.

Hutchison's political ambitions already have some on Capitol Hill talking about her as a possible vice presidential contender on a Republican ticket in 2008.

DEM DILEMMA
The Florida state Democratic delegation met in Tallahassee on Monday to try to figure out how best to get back into the political game in the 2006 election cycle, this, after seeing their party fall further behind in both the Florida house and senate in the 2004 elections.

According to one attendee, a small minority in the meeting of about 70 state Democratic officials insisted that the winning strategy was to speak openly about their Democratic values: pro-abortion and pro-labor, for example.

But that idea was quickly shot down by a decision to hire political consultants in the coming weeks to develop and test political and issues positions that play well with Florida independents.

The consultants will be hired at a cost of more than $2 million. "It's probably money well spent," says a Republican Florida House member. "Now Democrats can finally find out what they believe in."

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