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Weekly Alibi A Healthy Situation?

In the Public Interest, Congressman Steve Schiff Should Retire

By Jack Moczinski

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  Congressman Steve Schiff's medical condition deserves vigorous public consideration. Cancer is a treacherous disease, and, once you've had it, there are no guarantees that it won't return. Sadly, Steve Schiff has to live with that for the rest of his life. I say that not to make light of a difficult situation but because the congressman is a public servant and our representative in Washington, D.C. Throughout his years in Congress and as a district attorney, Mr. Schiff maintains an unfortunate habit of telling voters what is good for them. Now it is time for voters to tell Schiff that, by continuing to delay his return to Washington, he is no longer acting in the best interest of the voters. Congressman Schiff should retire immediately.

The annals of Capitol Hill are filled with tales of congressmen who sacrificed their health and well-being to cast a vote in the Congress. I don't necessarily think that's what Schiff should do. But it does reflect how lightly we treat the democratic process these days. We haven't called for Schiff's retirement because we've learned to accept less from Congress. In a recent Albuquerque Journal article detailing Schiff's recovery, when asked about the impact of Schiff's seven-month absence from Congress, Schiff's Press Secretary, J. Barry Bitzer, excused Schiff's absence by stating that, between Congress and the administration, it hasn't been a time of rancor when votes are close. This excuse is entirely unacceptable. The partisanship displayed in the U.S. House certainly points to a time of rancor (meaning: bitter, long-lasting resentment) and votes that affect the lives of thousands of New Mexicans cross the capitol every day. Maybe, Mr. Bitzer, Congress should only meet when it's determined that votes will be close?

Take a look at the schedule of bills facing the House floor in the last week. The Albuquerque veterans community would be interested to know that the House considered a Cost of Living Adjustment that would affect the balance of their monthly benefits check. Also, Congress considered the National Defense Appropriations Act of 1997 and saw President Clinton use the line item veto to eliminate $6.9 million in funding to renovate buildings at White Sands Missile Range. Thousands of Albuquerqueans are employed in defense-related industries as a result of the funding we receive from the federal government for defense programs. Undoubtedly, Albuquerque contractors will bid for the $6.9 million construction project at White Sands. This is serious business, folks.

Then there are committee meetings. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Schiff missed a vote to restore funding for the Office of National Drug Policy and the Drug Czar for two more years. Since 1994, Schiff has touted his chairmanship of the Basic Research Subcommittee of the House Science Committee as one vitally important to Albuquerque and especially New Mexico's labs. It does no good for New Mexico to leave that seat empty. Schiff's resignation allows a new congressman to take his place, giving Albuquerque representation in Washington, D.C.

People will call me distasteful for discussing a man's health. In all fairness, it is just as distasteful that Mr. Schiff's campaign is sending out fundraising letters written by his wife, Marcia Schiff, that update supporters on Steve's condition, then ask for contributions to the Congressman's campaign. By doing that, Steve Schiff acknowledges that politics is indeed part of this issue.

Some wonder if Schiff and the Republican Party are engineering an appointed Republican successor that would step into the fray after Schiff enters and wins the 1998 primary election. This kind of party politics would show no regard for voters and the democratic process. It also would be a betrayal of Schiff's 1996 campaign ad that promoted him as a man who goes where his sense of right or wrong takes him, regardless of politics.

Congressman Schiff, through his service on the House Ethics Committee and during statements made during his campaigns, consistently calls for responsibility and accountability from his fellow members of Congress and other elected officials. It is time for Congressman Schiff to demand the same of himself, throw aside his ego and do what is best for the voters in the First Congressional District: retire.

For a different slant on this issue, see "Captain Opinion".

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