Monday, January 15, 2001

Voinovich can't catch Cabinet job

        Want to see a big steelhead trout?

        We mean just plain big, big enough to pull a bass boat. Big enough to wear a three-piece suit and smoke a cigar.


        All you have to do is get on the Internet and check out the Web site of Ohio's junior U.S. senator, George Voinovich.

        You'll find the usual public policy pronouncements, instructions on how to e-mail the senator when you are hacked off about something you saw on C-SPAN, but, by far, the best part is the senator's photo album.

        Click on that and you'll find grip-and-grin pictures of the senator greeting the well-known and the unknown, photos of the senator in safety goggles touring widget factories.

Consolation prize

        But the best one is of Mr. Voinovich, in hip waders and fishing vest, standing on the bank of Big Creek, a tributary of the Grand River east of his native Cleveland.

        He holds a fishing pole in one hand and, in the other, the biggest steelhead trout you are likely to see.

        This big ol' thing, the caption explains, was caught during the recent congressional recess and “served as the Voinovich family's New Year's Day dinner.”

        Mr. Voinovich has a wide grin on his face, looking like he just won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer for literature and the Cy Young Award, all on the same day.

        Of course, he didn't. He didn't even win the one prize he probably could have had, but steadfastly said he wasn't interested in — a job in the cabinet of George W. Bush.

        Sources close to the Bush-Cheney transition team say that there was a point shortly after the result of the disputed election was decided when the job of Secretary of Health and Human Services could have been the former Ohio governor's for the asking.

        But it went instead to the present Republican governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, even though his state's electoral votes went to Al Gore and Ohio's went to Mr. Bush.

        Mr. Voinovich did not lose because Mr. Bush was jealous of his ability to reel in massive steelhead from a trout stream. He lost because there were those in the Ohio Republican Party leadership who didn't particularly want a U.S. Senate election this year.

        If Mr. Voinovich had left, the odds-on favorite for an appointment to his Senate seat was Cincinnati's own 2nd District congressman, Rob Portman.

Promotions on hold

        But, because Mr. Voinovich is only two years into a six-year term, there would have been an election for the remainder of his term. Ohio GOP leaders feared Mr Portman, while highly regarded on Capitol Hill and popular in his district, could not keep the seat in an election.

        They were not about to have an election in Ohio that would tip the current 50-50 split in the Senate to the Democrats.

        So Mr. Portman will stay put, although he won't suffer much, as tight as he is with the Bush-Cheney administration and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

        Mr. Voinovich will stay put, too; and watch his former colleague Tommy Thompson take the job that might well have been his.

        But you can bet Tommy Thompson will never catch a steelhead that big.

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