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From dinner companion to pariah

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Policy Mic
Around a table at an Old Damascus restaurant in 2009 are the Kerrys and the Assads.

Secretary of State John Kerry certainly can be harsh with people with whom he once amiably socialized over dinner.

Case in point: Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Kerry blasted the Assad regime for the recent chemical attack in Syria, saying its use of such weapons should “shock the conscience of the world” and calling such tactics “inexcusable” and a “moral obscenity.”

We wonder how embarrassed Kerry was when a 2009 picture surfaced last week and went viral online following that scathing criticism. It showed then-U.S. Sen. Kerry and his wife, Fox Chapel's own Teresa Heinz, enjoying a friendly dinner with Assad and his wife at the Narenj Restaurant in Old Damascus.

The quartet did not appear to be engaged in an animated discussion over human rights violations.

VOTING PATTERN GOOD OMEN FOR GUV. Tom Corbett's poll numbers are dismal, but the governor can breathe easy.

He's virtually guaranteed re-election next year, according to the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

An analysis published via the center's Smart Politics blog revealed that in the 19 Pennsylvania gubernatorial races dating back to 1938, voters have elected a governor of the sitting president's party just once. That was in 1982, when Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh defeated Democrat Allen Ertel while Ronald Reagan occupied the White House.

So while Corbett needs to bolster his popularity in the coming months, a 75-year-old trend indicates he's a shoo-in to win a second term.

NOT EXACTLY THE MAGIC KINGDOM. City Councilman Bill Peduto recently took a final vacation before his presumptive election as Pittsburgh's next mayor in November, but he didn't travel very far.

His Twitter account provided frequent updates on what he labeled his ”staycation.” Among the highlights: Peduto attended Banjo Night at the North Side Elks Club, a Morningside Ladies Bocce competition and the Cheap Trick concert at Stage AE, and he took a 17-mile canoe trip along the Allegheny River.

Not to be overly cynical, but the question has to be asked: Once Peduto is elected, will he still prefer the Elks over Epcot?

DREAM VS. REALITY. As national pundits upgraded U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' 2014 re-election chances in the 12th Congressional District after former Congressman Mark Critz, a Democrat, chose to run for lieutenant governor, New Kensington Democrat Erin McClelland sent out a fundraising message that said she has “a dream.”

Her dream is that with a little bit of help, she can knock off Rothfus, the first-term Sewickley Republican.

But multiple pundits disagree. The Cook Political Report changed its rating of the 12th District from “Likely Republican” to “Solid Republican” in view of Critz's decision not to seek the seat.

GOING BATTY. Legislation aimed at standardizing Pennsylvania's process for designating species of fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered, as well as for designating waters as wild trout streams, is in the works.

The state House Game and Fisheries Committee and members of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee are formulating the legislation. House Bill 1576, the Endangered Species Coordination Act, has bipartisan support from 67 co-sponsors, according to its author, state Rep. Jeff Pyle, a Republican representing Armstrong and Indiana counties.

“We are simply asking for sufficient burden of proof that a species is truly endangered or under a threat of extinction,” Pyle said. “Not all state agencies are required to play by the same rules when it comes to these designations, and my bill would essentially level the playing field.”

The bill would require both the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission to go through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and the related House and Senate committees when attempting to list a species as endangered or threatened. Currently, only the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) faces those requirements.

Pyle said the bill was prompted by an Armstrong School District building project sited in a habitat for a species of endangered bat. With no option to appealing that species' designation, the district chose to pay more than $61,000 to a conservation fund rather than abandon the project or be forced to find a new home for the bats.

Any species currently listed as threatened or endangered would be required to go through the IRRC process within two years of the bill's effective date to justify its continued designation. The bill also would require the DCNR to maintain a database of species designated as threatened or endangered. Hearings are expected.

— compiled by Trib Total Media staff

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