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John Hollenhorst ReportingPresident Bush's surprise announcement Monday naming Governor Mike Leavitt to be EPA chief has already churned up some pretty heavy flak for Leavitt. But Washington veterans say Leavitt had better buckle his seat belt because it's going to get a lot worse.
Leavitt's appointment is considered almost certain to win approval from the US Senate, but it's expected to be a brutal process. A man who's been through it before makes it sound like a combination of being cut in half with a buzz saw and thrown into a meat grinder.
Mike Leavitt is moving from Triple A baseball to the Big Leagues. That's the word from Pat Shea, who went through senate confirmation in 1997 to become President Clinton's BLM chief. The way Shea tells it, moving from Utah to Washington sounds like moving from kindergarten to combat in the Roman Coliseum.
Pat Shea, Former BLM director: "Washington is a town of blood sport. And people seem to get particular satisfaction out of having a knight in shining armor arrive on the scene and being trashed by different interest groups."
For starters, privacy goes out the window.
Pat Shea, Former BLM director: "It's a very intrusive process. All your friends, neighbors, relatives, non-friends are interviewed. And if there's anything that has been tucked away in the closet, it probably is going to come out in the course of the investigation."
Shea had bipartisan support in '97. Leavitt will face a sharply divided Senate Environment Committee. Three committee Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, are sponsors of a sweeping wilderness bill Leavitt has opposed. Two others on the committee, Joseph Lieberman and Bob Graham, are running for President Bush's job.
Pat Shea, Former BLM director: "And they will be positioning themselves and their aspirations on the environmental issues that Governor Leavitt will be handling as administrator."
Lieberman has already labeled Bush's environmental record a disaster and suggested Leavitt will perpetuate it. Lieberman put Leavitt on notice; he'll be scrutinized on many issues, including Legacy Highway, MagCorp pollution and secret anti-wilderness deals orchestrated by Leavitt.
Pat Shea, Former BLM director: "He has always been in the Utah environment where things are family oriented, friend oriented, 'let's be friends at the end of the day, lets make lemonade out of lemons'. They slice people in Washington just out of the satisfaction to see blood ooze to the surface."
But don't worry Mr. Leavitt; it's nothing personal. It's just the business of Washington.
Pat Shea, Former BLM director: "I think he needs to very clearly understand that politics in Washington is not personal. But the victims are personal."
The timing for all this rough and tumble politics is a bit uncertain, but Leavitt is likely to be on the hot seat for at least a couple of months. And then it gets really hard -- one of Washington's toughest jobs, working under a microscope with interest groups circling like sharks all day long.