Friday, June 07, 2002

Voinovich tunes out pop star

Backstreet Boys singer testifies

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — In an odd squabble between politician and pop star, the pop star got the last word.

        Sen. George Voinovich boycotted a Senate hearing Thursday on mountaintop mining because of the appearance of Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys. The Ohio Republican called the decision to invite Mr. Richardson a mockery of the subcommittee and the environmental issues involved.

        “This witness was brought in at the last minute as a media stunt,” said Mr. Voinovich, who added that the singer was the latest of several celebrities to appear before Congress on behalf of pet causes. “We're either serious about the issues or we're running a sideshow. Someone needs to make up their mind.”

        Mr. Richardson, 30, from Lexington in coal-rich Kentucky, has formed his own environmental foundation and has taken an interest in the damage mountaintop mining can cause. Dressed in a suit and tie and without the standard Hollywood entourage, the singer told lawmakers that destructive mining practices are scarring land in Appalachia and choking streams and rivers with waste.

        After his testimony, he took a few shots at Mr. Voinovich.

        “It's unfortunate he's not here,” Mr. Richardson said. “I could have taught him something. He could have learned something from me. I could have learned something from him.”

        He acknowledged his celebrity gives him a wider platform but said he was appearing before the subcommittee as a concerned citizen.

        Mr. Voinovich, who is more partial to polka than pop, insisted he had nothing personal against Mr. Richardson or the Backstreet Boys. He just wanted to make a point that the subcommittee's witness-selection process should not be twisted to accommodate celebrities.

        “We've probably lost the 15-year-old girl vote,” conceded Mr. Voinovich's spokesman, Scott Milburn.


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