Political Notebook

Departing BP head won’t testify in Sept.

Louisiana’s US Senator David Vitter faces little competition. Louisiana’s US Senator David Vitter faces little competition.
August 27, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward has refused a request by US senators to testify next month about his company’s role in the release of the man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In a letter this week signed by Hayward and obtained by the Associated Press, Hayward told Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, that he is focused on ensuring a “smooth and successful leadership change’’ at the company and will be unable to testify. The committee is looking into whether the British-based oil company had sought Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s release to help get a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya off the ground.

The company has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed that it did not specify Megrahi’s case.

Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing, which killed all 259 people on board, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground. In August 2009, Scotland’s government released the cancer-stricken man on compassionate grounds and he returned to Libya. At the time, doctors advising the government gave Megrahi three months to live, but he is still alive.

Menendez initially planned the hearing for last month but was forced to postpone it when he initially could not get Hayward or officials from Britain and Scotland to testify.

At the time, Hayward told reporters in London: “I have a busy week so we are sending someone else.’’ The company offered to send a regional vice president for Europe, but Menendez wasn’t satisfied. He wanted Hayward along with Sir Mark Allen, a BP adviser who Menendez said acted as a liaison between the company and the Libyan and British governments.

— Associated Press

Tally starts in Vermont gubernatorial primary
MONTPELIER — A vote tally aimed at settling Vermont’s too-close-to-call Democratic primary for governor began yesterday, with the apparent second-place finisher awaiting word on official numbers before deciding whether to seek a recount.

The count of vote totals from tally sheets, not actual ballots, could be finished today but may take until tomorrow, officials said.

In unofficial returns from Tuesday’s five-way race, state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin held a 192-vote lead over state Senator Doug Racine. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz was 497 votes behind Racine. About 72,000 ballots were cast.

The five were seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican who is stepping down after four terms.

Data entry clerks in the secretary of state’s office began taking vote total numbers yesterday from tally sheets sent in by Vermont’s 246 cities and towns and inputting them into a database that will produce the first official statewide count.

The results, which won’t be certified until a canvassing board signs off on them Tuesday, will show whether Shumlin’s lead holds — and if so, by how much. He has claimed victory but said he would respect the process if Racine seeks a recount.

“We’ve asked them to let us know as soon as they have the results,’’ said Amy Shollenberger, Racine’s campaign manager. “We just want them to do their job. They don’t need people looking over their shoulders. They’ve assured us they’ll release the results when they’re sure they’re accurate.’’

Under Vermont law, if a vote count shows one candidate in a statewide race trailing another by less than 2 percent of total votes cast, the one behind can request a recount. In that case, all the ballots cast would be counted again by hand in each of the state’s 14 counties.

Racine’s camp said it had no concerns about potential conflict of interest in the secretary of state’s office, which Markowitz heads.

— Associated Press

Despite scandals, GOP’s Vitter poised for La. win
NEW ORLEANS — Republican Senator David Vitter survived a 2007 prostitution scandal and has shrugged off fresh questions about his judgment in allowing an aide to remain on his staff for more than two years after a violent attack on a woman.

Vitter has been dogged by questions about his personal life. Yet in a GOP year and in a GOP-leaning state, the incumbent is on track to win tomorrow’s primary against two little-known Republicans.

With little competition from his own party, he has focused on Democratic US Representative Charlie Melancon, his likely opponent in November.

The two are engaged in a war of attack ads, with Melancon running one that touches on Vitter’s 2007 admission of an unspecified “serious sin’’ after his phone number appeared in the records of a Washington prostitution ring.

It also refers to the scandal that broke earlier this summer when ABC News reported that Vitter had kept an aide who dealt with women’s issues on staff even after he was arrested for attacking a woman in his apartment. The woman, identified by police as his former girlfriend, told police the aide used a knife in the attack. Her chin and hand were cut, but the injuries were not serious.

The aide pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in the case but kept his job until more than two years later, after ABC’s report. Vitter’s office said the senator accepted the aide’s resignation after learning of additional legal problems, including a drunken driving case.

The campaign manager for Vitter’s best-known primary opponent, retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, says Republicans encouraged Traylor to get into the race because they feared another scandal was lurking.

But so far, Vitter appears strong. A poll of 600 registered voters taken for a group of local television stations by Clarus Research Group found 74 percent of Republicans said they would vote for him, compared with 5 percent for Traylor and 3 percent for little-known Republican Nick Accardo. The same poll also gave Vitter a 12 percent edge over Melancon in November.

Taking advantage of President Obama’s low popularity in the state, Vitter has repeatedly linked Melancon to Democratic policies, including the health care overhaul, which Melancon voted against.

Melancon also faces a primary against little-known Democrats Neeson Chauvin and Cary Deaton. He is expected to win.

— Associated Press