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CAMPAIGN 2000

Cheney Admits to Sparse Texas Voting Record

September 09, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SHELTON, Conn. — Dick Cheney acknowledged Friday he failed to vote in 14 of the past 16 elections in Texas, hitting the Republican presidential ticket with a new controversy as nominee George W. Bush struggles to gain traction.

Responding to a published report, Cheney defended his lapse--including a failure to vote in the March presidential primary--by saying he was busy traveling and had little interest in Texas issues.

Asked why voters should bother to vote for him when he failed to vote so many times himself, the GOP vice presidential nominee told reporters: "If they look at the facts, I think they'll say I have participated in the political system for all of my life." He said he has voted in every general election over the last 22 years.

Still, the details of Cheney's spotty voting record, first reported Friday in the Dallas Morning News, created another day of distraction for a GOP ticket that has stumbled through several recent mishaps.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 15, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Checchi record--A Saturday news story and a Tuesday editorial said that former gubernatorial candidate Al Checchi never voted in a state gubernatorial election. Checchi in fact did vote in every gubernatorial election except one over the last 15 years.

Moreover, the latest revelations increased griping among Republicans concerning the series of side issues that Cheney has visited upon the Bush campaign since his unexpected selection roughly six weeks ago.

Among them, Cheney has been forced to explain congressional votes against the Head Start preschool program; a vote against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from a South African prison; a controversial severance package from his ex-employer; and a record of charitable giving some consider meager.

In contrast, Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut has been widely viewed as a major asset to running mate Al Gore.

Speaking anonymously, to avoid the wrath of Bush and other Republicans, one GOP strategist said Cheney was a good pick when the Texas governor was doing well in the polls. But now that the campaign dynamic has shifted, with Bush running even or behind, the strategist suggested Cheney has grown to be a liability.

"It reveals the overconfidence that existed at the time the selection was made," the strategist said. "Bush, correctly, made a governing choice, not a political choice. And now it's showing big time. Seeing the way the race has turned since then, I do suspect they wish they had it to do over again."

But Karl Rove, chief strategist for the Bush campaign, said nothing of the sort. "Dick Cheney has been a great value to the ticket and a great candidate for us," Rove said. "In fact, we're going to see him in the weeks ahead stepping up his use as a spokesman for the ticket."

As the head of Bush's vice presidential search committee, Cheney spent several months vetting prospective running mates. When Cheney emerged as Bush's favorite, those responsibilities were turned over to campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.

"We did not see anything in Cheney's background that would give us pause," said Ari Fleischer, a Bush spokesman. "I think the American people full well understand he's voted in every federal election since 1978, and we all would like to vote in 100% of the referenda that take place, but sometimes people travel and aren't able to vote in 100% of the local initiatives."

Fleischer would not say whether Cheney's local voting record had been looked into.

"We are going to decline to walk through each and every item the governor and his staff vetted," Fleischer said. "It turns into an endless stream of information about Secretary Cheney and his life, and we decline to get into that."

On Friday, however, Cheney spent the day on the defensive. Reporters peppered him with questions about his voting record during a campaign stop at an assisted living center in Shelton, outside New Haven.

He said he would have to "go back and look at the schedule" to see why he failed to vote for Bush in the March 14 Texas primary. Cheney apparently failed to request an absentee ballot, available for 17 days before the election, or take advantage of a Texas law allowing early voting up to three weeks before election day.

In late July, he switched his registration from Texas back to Wyoming, which Cheney represented for 10 years in Congress before becoming Defense secretary under Bush's father. The move cleared the way for him to join the GOP ticket, eliminating a technical hurdle involving the electoral college.

Subsequently, Cheney said, he voted in a congressional and legislative primary held in Wyoming two weeks after last month's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Cheney was dismissive of the other, nonfederal elections he missed. "Go look at the elections in Texas there, an awful lot of these were local issues--that Highland Park school board issue--those kinds of things," he said, referring to the community where he lived while chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., a Dallas-based energy firm.

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