Over at the P-G's Early Returns blog yesterday, our pal Tim McNulty has broken news of Mary Beth Buchanan's not-so-surprising entry into the 4th Congressional District race.
Also somewhat less than entirely surprising: The press release announcing her campaign is already getting sloppy with the facts.
I'm gonna leave aside most of the low-hanging fruit here. (For example, it's amusing that Buchanan -- who brought us the prosecution of film-star-cum-bong-merchant Tommy Chong -- is railing against "the miss-placed [sic] priorities in Washington.") Instead, I'll focus on an assertion she makes about her rival, incumbent Democrat Jason Altmire:
"Just last month, he voted with fellow liberals to spend up to $50 million to buy beachfront property in the Caribbean Islands that most people in Western Pennsylvania will never be able to visit."
Makes it sound like Jason Altmire and his cronies have bought up a seaside resort for themselves to enjoy, doesn't it? And God only knows what sort of lurid excess will take place there. Taxpayer-subsidized mojitos? Same-sex conga lines?
Actually, Buchanan is referring to House Resolution 3726. That legislation, currently pending in the Senate, would establish the Castle Nugent National Historical Site -- a new national park on St. Croix. (St. Croix is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are U.S. territories.)
Altmire did indeed vote for the bill -- as did all but a handful of House Democrats. But he did not actually vote to spend $50 million, the estimated cost of purchasing all the land needed for the park. As one of his colleagues, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahal, pointed out in a floor speech, "H.R. 3726 does not spend one dime, and every Member on this floor knows it. The legislation designates this area as a new [parks] unit, but the bill contains no direct spending."
Instead, the billl allows the National Park Service to accept donations of land -- park backers say some of it is likely to be offered for free -- or request for money to purchase property in the future. (Land acquisition could take a decade.) But those appropriations would be handled in later legislation. A summary by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms this, noting that merely "[e]nacting H.R. 3726 would have no effect on direct spending or revenues."
And while the park boundaries could include shoreline, this isn't "beachfront property" as you or I think of it. The land, according to the National Park Service, is "mostly rolling and hilly with a mixture of dry forest, native vegetation, and rangeland that offers picturesque views to the Caribbean Sea and to distant parts of the island. A shoreline of cobble beaches and small crescent bays extends for approximately 4.5 miles." The site has historic significance, boasts an impressive coral reef and a breeding ground for sea turtles, and offers grazing land for island cattle. No one's gonna build condos here: In fact, if created, the site would preserve some of the dwindling island acerage that hasn't already been developed.
And of course, it's not like the site would be closed to people from Western Pennsylvania, or anywhere else. It'd be run by the Park Service. Buchanan's concern, apparently is simply that most of us aren't likely to vacation in the Virgin Islands.
I'm sure that's true. But hey, I'll probably never go to Mt. Rushmore either. Does that mean we should shut down the National Park facility there, and start quarrying the stone to raise cash?
But let's face it: This is a well-crafted attack. Especially when half of western Pennsylvania is encased in snow, nobody wants to hear about taxpayer dollars being spent in the Virgin Islands. And there are probably people out there who still think, in light of Barack Obama's election, that Hawaii is only a state on a technicality. Spending our tax dollars on a mere territory will no doubt anger them. (Even though residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands are taxpaying American citizens.)
It might be worth noting, finally, that planning for this park began during the Bush Administration. So it's not a "liberal" initiative. Then again, a lot of Bush appointees were capable of wasting public money on ill-considered agendas. Just look at Mary Beth Buchanan.