Heard on the Hill: Hair Club for the Vanquished

Posted November 20, 2008 at 6:41pm

Welcome to the club, Sen. John Sununu. The New Hampshire Republican briefly joined a group of political losers who have marked their own defeats by growing beards — the ultimate sign of rebellion against the clean-shaven culture of high-profile campaigns.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sununu, who lost to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, showed up in Washington, D.C., this week sporting scruffy facial hair, having apparently given up his razor in the wake of his loss at the ballot (Senate aides variously described the look as that of a “mountain man” or a “homeless dude”). Sununu was simply following in the proud tradition of other political losers like Al Gore, who grew a full, professorial beard after losing the presidential election in 2000, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who sported facial hair following his withdrawal from this year’s race to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

But less than an hour after appearing on the Senate floor on Wednesday with beard on display, Sununu was back for another floor speech — and this time, he was clean-shaven.

Back in January, Richardson told HOH that he grows a beard during moments of “transition and decompression” in his life, including when he left the United Nations to become secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. Not shaving is a way of expressing one’s freedom from the demands of campaigning and even politics itself, Richardson said.

Maybe Sununu should wait until after the lame-duck session ends to start work on a full-on yeti look.

Great Expectations. Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) is expecting — a baby, yes, her office confirmed on Thursday, but also an engagement ring from her boyfriend, consultant Jim Sullivan.

Sánchez, who is due May 21, and Sullivan plan to wed, but there’s no date and no diamond yet. Sánchez spokeswoman Marsha Catron tells HOH she has cautioned her boss that when Sullivan does pop the question, the Congresswoman shouldn’t get so wrapped up in romance that she forgets something even more essential: ethics rules.

To avoid running afoul of the House gift ban, Sánchez first has to accept Sullivan’s proposal before she can take the ring, Catron explained. That’s because once she accepts — making Sullivan a “family member” who is exempt from the ban — she can take the ring without any clearance from the ethics committee. But if she takes the ring first, that could cause a problem.

Sánchez released a statement on Thursday announcing her happy baby news. In the statement, she said she is unfazed about combining Congressional duties with maternal ones. “The only thing I am worried about balancing with this pregnancy are my favorite pair of heels,” the famously stilettoed Sánchez said.

Sister and fellow California Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, said she was happy for “Sully” and her sister.

“Coming from a family of seven siblings, I know she will make a wonderful mother,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to becoming an aunt.”

So now that the mom-to-be has got the rules of engagement down, Sánchez only has to think about accepting baby gifts … better get out the Ethics Manual.

Clouds for Sunshine State. Poor Florida. The Sunshine State can’t seem to catch a break. There are the old-people jokes. The hanging-chad references that won’t die. And now, after scrappy underdogs the Tampa Bay Rays choked in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, even an innocuous bet-settling among the home-state Senators didn’t go smoothly.

The Floridians, Sens. Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D), had to cancel a news conference Thursday at which they were to present Florida goodies to Pennsylvania’s delegation, because of a delivery snafu.

Martinez spokesman Ken Lundberg tells HOH that the overnight delivery service bringing the promised “Cuban pastries” from Miami was delayed, throwing a wrench into the plan.

Lundberg, though, tried to absolve Florida and pin the blame on a state that typically gets an even worse rap. “I think they ran into trouble in New Jersey,” he said.

And an array of Florida citrus that was to be a part of the offering isn’t ready, either, since the fruits are “still on the vine ripening,” he said, and won’t be harvested until late November.

The other part of the Florida bounty —smoked fish and cookbooks from a legendary restaurant — were ready, however. Instead of a news conference, the bet was settled with a low-key delivery when the pastries arrived Thursday afternoon.

Hey, at least there wasn’t a recount this year.

I’m With (and Elected) Stupid. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) got a lot of grief about being a little, um, fuzzy about the duties of vice president, but Palin’s hardly alone in her ignorance of civics 101.

A new study released Thursday found that many Americans remain, well, just plain dumb when it comes to the basics of our democracy. And elected officials — the ones who promise to honor that democracy and improve upon it? Well, they’re even dumber.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute released the results of its third annual survey of American civil literacy at the National Press Club on Thursday, which officials described as “a test of important, but basic, political and economic concepts.” But the news wasn’t good — 71 percent of the 2,500 Americans who took the 33-question test failed it.

To drive home their point, ISI officials showed a video, a la “The Tonight Show’s” regular “Jaywalking” feature, which saw interviewees (who were heading to vote on Nov. 4, no less) struggling to name the three branches of government. That drew laughter from the crowd at the press club (especially after one interviewee named “Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice” as the three branches) but didn’t amuse the researchers.

“We shouldn’t be laughing,” said Josiah Bunting III, who oversaw the study. “We should be weeping.”

Bunting and his colleagues noted that Americans might not be able to turn to their elected officials for guidance, either. Out of the respondents, 164 identified themselves as having been elected to a government office at least once (although the results don’t specify at what level those officials worked).

The officeholders scored lower than everybody else surveyed, the findings show, with their average score of 44 percent, compared to 49 percent for the rest of the group.

Twenty-seven percent of them could not name one freedom granted by the First Amendment, for example, and 54 percent did not know that Congress has the power to declare war.

Maybe all Americans should just follow the lead of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and always carry a pocket copy of the Constitution?

Ladies Night. The Democratic women of the Senate inducted two new Members into their sisterhood during a Wednesday dinner at the Capitol Hill home of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

HOH hears that Landrieu served up Southern fare, natch, including gumbo, deviled eggs, and shrimp and grits at the welcome-to-Congress dinner during which Sens.-elect Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) mingled with veteran Senators including Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

With the addition of the freshmen next session, the number of women in the Senate will rise from 16 to 17 (Hagan defeated Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, one of the women serving in the 110th Congress).

It was a Senators-only event, with no staff allowed, although Landrieu’s daughter helped with hostessing duties like setting the table, HOH hears.

No word, though, on whether the Senators indulged in traditional gal pal party pastimes like playing Ouija or prank-calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Plum Crazy. The color purple is all the rage these days, what with President-elect Barack Obama labeling it as the official new color of the country (goodbye, red and blue!).

But Rep.-elect Steve Driehaus was for purple before it was cool.

The Ohio Democrat told HOH on Thursday (while sporting a purple tie, no less) that he’s loved the color ever since his days as a student at Cincinnati’s Elder High School, where the official colors are purple and white.

Since that time, Driehaus has adopted purple as his own official color, and when he decided to run for the state Legislature at the start of the decade, he paired the color with yellow and put it on his campaign materials.

“Those are the colors on my yard signs, those are on my cups,” he said.

With apologies to Prince, can we call his first term a “purple reign”?

Shop Till You Drop. Want to get holiday shopping done early but can’t brave the malls? Or maybe you just have a thing for pearls and sweater sets.

Whatever your motivation, the Junior League of Washington launches its 50th annual “A Capital Collection of Holiday Shops” at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel today. More than 5,000 shoppers are expected to pay $10 charitable donations for access to the more than 70 vendors who’ll be selling clothing, jewelry, handbags, accessories, art and a variety of other goodies.

And since there’s no better mix than shopping and cocktails, the JLW also is sponsoring “Martinis & Mistletoe,” a party tonight at 7 p.m. featuring live and silent auctions, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and, of course, more shopping.

A kid-friendly soiree (i.e., more crafts and fewer cocktails) happens Saturday morning.

Hours and admission information can be found at jlw.org.

Submit your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments here.