Thursday, February 08, 2001

Blackwell may join Bush team

Ohio Secretary of State eyeing sub-Cabinet posts

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell is talking to high-level Bush administration officials about a possible job in the state, commerce or treasury departments.

        “I've had several conversations with key players on the president's team about several key sub-Cabinet posts,” Mr. Blackwell said Wednesday. The former Cincinnati mayor said he wouldn't elaborate but will make a decision after speaking with his family.

        Sources close to the administration say the three jobs that Mr. Blackwell, 52, has been approached about are:

        • Assistant secretary of state, reporting to Secretary of State Colin Powell, where his responsibilities would be monitoring international elections and human rights around the world.

        • A job helping to formulate tax policy at the Treasury Department.

        • A post as deputy to Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

        During last fall's presidential campaign, Mr. Blackwell was one of George W. Bush's principal surrogates on tax policy, making the TV talk show rounds to tout Mr. Bush's across-the-board tax cut proposal.

        The Cincinnati Republican also has experience in diplomacy and with human rights issues. When Mr. Bush's father was president, Mr. Blackwell was his first ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

        After serving in the Bush administration, Mr. Blackwell became a senior fellow at the Urban Morgan Insti tute For Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati's College of Law.

        “The human rights community — the private organizations that monitor human rights around the world — would be absolutely delighted if Ken returned to the field,” said Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute.

        While in the Bush administration, Mr. Blackwell developed a relationship with the two key foreign policy officials in the new administration — Mr. Powell, who was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the elder Bush's administration, and national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, who also worked in the first Bush White House.

        The possibility of Mr. Blackwell heading back to Washington for a job comes at a time when some Cincinnati Republicans are hoping he would return to his hometown to be the Republican Party's candidate for mayor in 2001.

        “He would be a formidable candidate,” said lawyer Michael R. Barrett, who is expected to take over as Hamilton County Republican Party chairman next week. “But we'll have to wait to see what kind of opportunities Ken has in the Bush administration.”

        Ohio Republican Party chairman Robert Bennett and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft have been touting Mr. Blackwell with Bush administration officials.

        “Ken and I have been very clear about it; it's up to Ken what he wants to do,” Mr. Bennett said. “Nobody's going to say I'm trying to push Ken Blackwell out of Ohio.”

        But if Mr. Blackwell does leave, the governor will appoint a replacement to serve through the 2002 election.

        Mr. Bennett said one possibility would be Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, who cannot run for re-election to the high court.

        A Douglas appointment would give Mr. Taft an opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice who might change the balance of power on the court. Mr. Douglas was part of a 4-3 majority on the court that has twice ruled Ohio's school funding formula unconstitutional. Mr. Taft and the Ohio General Assembly are under a June 15 court-ordered deadline to come up with a new plan.

        “Andy Douglas can't run for re-election and everybody expects him to stay active in politics,” Mr. Bennett said. “All I'm saying is, appointing him is a possibility.”


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