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Project Would Be the Largest Since the Interstate System

President-elect Barack Obama shakes hands with Florida Governor Charlie Crist as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich looks on during a bipartisan meeting

President-elect Barack Obama shakes hands with Florida Governor Charlie Crist as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich looks on during a bipartisan meeting

On the heels of more grim unemployment news, President-elect Barack Obama yesterday offered the first glimpse of what would be the largest public works program since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the federal interstate system in the 1950s.

Obama said the massive government spending program he proposes to lift the country out of economic recession will include a renewed effort to make public buildings energy-efficient, rebuild the nation’s highways, renovate aging schools and install computers in classrooms, extend high-speed Internet to underserved areas and modernize hospitals by giving them access to electronic medical records.

“We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least 2 1/2 million jobs so that the nearly 2 million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future,” Obama said in his weekly address, broadcast on the radio and the Internet.

Obama offered few details and no cost estimate for the investment in public infrastructure. But it is intended to be part of a broader effort to stimulate economic activity that will also include tax cuts for middle-class Americans and direct aid to state governments to forestall layoffs as programs shrink.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for spending between $400 billion and $500 billion on the overall package. Some Senate Democrats and other economists have suggested spending even more — potentially $1 trillion — in the hope of jolting the economy into shape more quickly.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

President-elect Barack Obama and Bill Richardson, the secretary of commerce-designate. (Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

CHICAGO – Bill Richardson is beardless and back in the cabinet. The governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate appeared beside President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to accept his third cabinet-level post, this time as secretary of commerce.

Mr. Richardson, the first Hispanic chosen for Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made remarks in both English and Spanish as he took the assignment, signaling the importance of his selection for the new administration. Mr. Obama said he picked Mr. Richardson because of his deep experience and skills, not his ethnic heritage, but promised to produce a diverse senior team.

“When people look back and see the entire slate, what they will say is – not only in terms of my cabinet but in terms of my White House staff – I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse cabinets and White House staffs of all time,” said Mr. Obama, who will be the first African American president. “But more importantly, they’re going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence.”

Hispanic groups have lobbied strongly on behalf of Mr. Richardson, arguing that Hispanic voters in last month’s election helped deliver at least four states for Mr. Obama that voted for President Bush four years ago: Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Mr. Richardson’s New Mexico. Mr. Obama is also eyeing Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to become the United States trade representative, a position that has had cabinet status in the past.

Mr. Richardson has served in the cabinet twice before, first as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as his secretary of energy. Mr. Richardson had his eye on secretary of state this time around but lost out to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although the commerce slot is generally seen as a second-tier position, Mr. Obama said it would play a pivotal role in setting and executing his economic recovery agenda.

“Well, commerce secretary is a pretty good job, you know,” Mr. Obama said to suggestions that it was a consolation prize for Mr. Richardson. “It’s a member of my key economic team that is going to be dealing with the most significant issue that America faces right now and that is how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy?”

As for the beard that Mr. Richardson grew after dropping his own bid for the presidency earlier this year, it was gone by Wednesday morning’s news conference. Mr. Obama, tongue in cheek, declared that a mistake. “I thought that whole western rugged look was really working for him,” the president-elect said.

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After much anticipation from a room full of reporters and other curiosity-seekers, Sarah Palin this morning took four questions from reporters in a press conference that lasted 11 minutes.

Actually, taking away Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s opening statement, the session lasted under 10 minutes.

Palin was on stage with 13 other Republican governors — all men — who received zero attention from the assembled crowd.

After the third question, an RGA aide tried to end the session but Perry interjected and allowed for a fourth question.

Palin sought to deflect attention from herself and talk about the governors as a group, but all the questions centered on her past and future.

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ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sarah Palin has returned to Alaska fully recast and amplified.

Adored by many national conservatives, Ms. Palin is a prospect for a presidential run in 2012, supporters say. Caricatured by opponents, she is a candidate for political oblivion, say others.

Regardless, Ms. Palin told reporters the day after Election Day, “This has been all positive for me.”

Alaska, too, has been recast and amplified in the 10 weeks since Ms. Palin soared to national prominence as the Republican nominee for vice president, and the process has not necessarily been all positive.

Oil prices, which provide the bulk of state revenue, were well over $100 a barrel in late August when Ms. Palin left to campaign with Senator John McCain. Now they are slumming south of $60 a barrel, below the level required to balance the state budget. Increased scrutiny of Ms. Palin’s time as governor often painted an unflattering portrait of her administration. Investigative news reports have portrayed Ms. Palin as being consumed with personal matters and vindictiveness, particularly in the controversy over the firing of her public safety commissioner in what has become known as Troopergate.

Many Democrats, her allies in passing key legislation to raise taxes on oil companies and spur development of a natural gas pipeline, are outraged by her partisan attacks on now President-elect Barack Obama and on the tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign here at home.

Within the state’s Republican establishment — never Ms. Palin’s comfort zone — there is tension over the fate of Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted last month of failing to disclose gifts and free home renovations he received. Ms. Palin called on Mr. Stevens to resign even as state Republicans urged his re-election. A preliminary vote count suggests he could win a seventh full term.

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Even if Mr. Stevens wins, he could still be forced to resign, and Ms. Palin is widely viewed as a strong candidate to win his seat in the special election that would have to be held to replace him.

Ms. Palin has largely dodged questions about her long-term political future, and as she gets back to governing full time, few people know what to expect from her in the immediate future.

“She’s coming back to a whole different world from when she left,” said State Representative John Coghill, a Republican from North Pole who is chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. “If she comes back with a puffed up ego there’s going to be problems. But if she comes back ready to work, that will be better.”

Ms. Palin, in an interview in her office on Friday, said she was ready to work.

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“Now we kick in that fiscal conservativeness that needs to be engaged, and we progress this state with $57-a-barrel oil,” Ms. Palin said. She said the state would have to “be prudent with public dollars and provide services more efficiently than have ever been provided in the state of Alaska before.”

The price and production of oil determines state finances: taxes on oil bring in about 85 percent of state revenue. To balance the budget for the 2008-9 fiscal year, the price of oil needs to average $74 over the 12 months, said Karen J. Rehfeld, director of the state office of management and budget. If it falls below that average, the state could have to make emergency cuts or dip into a reserve account that contains several billion dollars. High prices early in the fiscal year may help keep the average up this year, but next year is another matter.

Ms. Palin, first elected governor in 2006, has governed only in times of budget surpluses, and lawmakers said they had many questions about how she would lead now.

“I just don’t know what kind of philosophy she’s going to have when she comes back,” said State Representative John Harris, a Republican and the departing House speaker.

Noting that his chief of staff, John Bitney, was once the governor’s legislative director, Mr. Harris added, “We were just trying to figure out what kind of policy things the governor may want to address and we were kind of scratching our heads, because we don’t know.”

Mr. Harris was among several lawmakers who questioned whether Ms. Palin would spend the rest of her term, which ends in 2010, positioning herself to run for national office. Would she pursue a socially conservative agenda, promoting bills to restrict abortion or gay rights, issues she largely passed on in her first two years in office because she was trying to win support from Democrats on other issues? Would she move to the center? Would she continue to rail against “the old boy network,” stoking her reformist image at the expense of her fellow Republicans, whose party has been tarnished by corruption scandals, including that of Mr. Stevens?

Ms. Palin rejected the idea that she would be playing to a larger audience.

“My actions will continue to be first and foremost in good service to the state of Alaska,” she said in the interview.

But other than suggesting that cost cuts were to come, Ms. Palin did not hint at a broader agenda.

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The governor is due to submit her 2009-10 budget next month, and neither she nor her aides offered specifics about what it might contain. The McCain-Palin campaign portrayed Ms. Palin as an energy expert, and one top priority Ms. Palin expressed well before she was selected to run for the vice presidency was to improve energy sources for different parts of the state. That includes finding cheaper sources of energy for rural villages, which often rely on inefficient diesel power, as well as for cities like Fairbanks, the state’s second largest, where utilities rely on oil and coal.

The state also faces questions over issues like financing Medicaid, increasing mining in environmentally sensitive areas and spending on transportation projects, as well as the complex negotiations involved in trying to develop the gas pipeline with the cooperation of the same oil companies whose taxes Ms. Palin has raised.

Ms. Palin’s partisanship on the campaign trail may be what most surprised people at home.

“She’s coming back to a divided state, where Democrats had supported her but they watched her for two months call the president-elect of the United States a terrorist sympathizer,” said State Representative Les Gara, Democratic of Anchorage. “She called him a socialist.”

Her partisanship also surprised some conservative Republicans, who were accustomed to feeling ignored while Ms. Palin nurtured alliances with Democrats and moderate Republicans. Now, some Republicans who have been at odds with Ms. Palin in the past are wondering if her partisan tone on the campaign trail might mean they will have her ear more than before.

“It appears that way,” said Mr. Coghill, the Republican from North Pole. Mr. Coghill said Ms. Palin’s emphasis on socially conservative issues on the campaign trail has helped persuade him that now is the time to ask Ms. Palin to actively support a bill that would require minors seeking abortions to notify their parents in advance.

“There are some people in our caucus who are skeptical” that Ms. Palin might ally herself more with Republicans now, Mr. Coghill said. “But they’re willing to take the chance, to step up and play.”

Ms. Palin suggested in the interview that how she ran for vice president would not shape how she governs Alaska.

“If anybody wants to try to criticize and say, ‘Oh, all of a sudden she’s an obsessive partisan,’ they’re wrong,” she said.

But she did allow that she thinks beyond her current role.

“Around every corner is something new,” Ms. Palin said, “so I look forward to seeing what happens next. But for now, it’s great to be back in the governor’s office.”

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Breaking here

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According to Carl Cameron of Fox News – insiders at the Mccain camp stated that Palin wasn’t aware that Africa was a continent, as she believed Africa was a country. Itappears Palin did not know anything about the NAFTA trade agreement – that she would not prepare for interviews like the now famous Katie Couric –

If Palin thought that Africa was a country – then it would make sense that one could get foreign policy experience – by merely being close to – or as she put it being able to see Russia from her state –  

There were some who said that – it wasn’t that Palin simply made mistakes during he interviews – that what was worst is that she didn’t understand the question.

A legislative committee investigating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has found she unlawfully abused her authority in firing the state’s public safety commissioner.

Troopergate finding

The investigative report concludes that a family grudge wasn’t the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan but says it likely was a contributing factor.

The Republican vice presidential nominee has been accused of firing a commissioner to settle a family dispute. Palin supporters have called the investigation politically motivated.

Monegan says he was dismissed as retribution for resisting pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce with the governor’s sister. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.

Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS