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Lawyer Loses Bid for Open Cheney Rally

By Leslie Linthicum and Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writers
    Upset by a requirement to sign an I-support-George-Bush pledge in order to see Vice President Dick Cheney in Rio Rancho today, an Albuquerque attorney went to court late Friday to ask that the event be open to people of all political stripes or shut down.
    A judge quickly turned her down— because Republicans were never informed that they were being taken to court.
    "It's hard for me to conclude you could not at least make a phone call to the Republican Party," state District Judge Ted Baca told the lawyer seeking an order against the GOP rally.
    "They're very easy to get a hold of," said Baca, who happens to be a Democrat.
    As a result, today's much-bickered-about Bush-Cheney campaign rally in the gymnasium at the Rio Rancho Mid-High School is scheduled to go on as planned.
    All available tickets were reserved as of Friday night and there was a waiting list, organizers said.
    Earlier, Republicans doling out tickets to the free event were limiting them to people with a record of supporting the GOP— or to others willing to sign a statement saying they support President Bush's re-election.
    Albuquerque lawyer Susan Chappell, a Democrat, filed the petition on the GOP rally late Friday afternoon on behalf of John Wade of Albuquerque.
    Wade, a fellow Democrat, got tickets to the Cheney rally from the Republicans' "Victory" office in Albuquerque on Thursday after signing the Bush-support pledge. However, he promptly returned the tickets because he felt the pledge should not have been required.
    The petition for the temporary restraining order argued that requiring an endorsement as a prerequisite to attending the rally at a public school violates constitutional protections of free speech and freedom of assembly.
    The petition asked that all people in Wade's position be let in— or that the event be shut down.
    Baca kept court open after 5 p.m. to hear the last-minute motion. But in a brief hearing in a near-empty courtroom, he declined to hear the case because Chappell had not given notice of her motion to the Bush-Cheney campaign.
    Chappell told Baca that she was under a "tremendous amount of pressure" to get the petition filed Friday. Under the circumstances, she said she should not have been required to give notice.
    Baca disagreed.
    Wade, a 72-year-old retiree, said he was disappointed with the ruling but pleased by the publicity the court hearing produced.
    "Publicity," he said, "is almost as good as a restraining order."
Limited guest list
    Republicans said the rally will be a thank you to supporters and, like anyone giving a private celebration, the political party can limit the guest list to its friends.
    Yier Shi, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C., said today's rally was meant to reward and enthuse Bush-Cheney supporters, not to be a forum to preach to skeptics.
    Democrats, independents and others were welcome to attend the speech, he said— as long as they like Bush and Cheney.
    And people should understand that Cheney is visiting New Mexico in the role of a candidate for re-election, Shi said, explaining that Republicans are treating the trip as a political campaign visit and not as an official visit of the vice president.
    "The argument that you're an American and you have a right to see the vice president— you can when he comes to New Mexico on an official visit," Shi said. "On this visit, he's Dick Cheney, a candidate for vice president and he happens to also be the vice president."
    Shi said Republicans in Massachussetts were not given passes to the Democratic National Convention in Boston to hear John Kerry accept the Democratic presidential nomination, even though Kerry represents them in the U.S. Senate.
    "It's just like the convention," Shi said.
Complaints heard
    Others— especially Democrats— bristled at limiting an appearance by the nation's second-in-command at a public building to people who pass a pro-Bush litmus test.
    "I am furious. This reminds me of communism. I am appalled," said Annie Webb of Albuquerque, a registered Democrat who called the Journal to complain. "This is supposed to be a free country. I think that's un-American. Our president and our vice president ought to be ashamed of themselves. It's insulting."
    Jim Brown, who has lived in Rio Rancho for 20 years and is a registered Democrat, was also angry.
    "I resent the school that my taxes paid for being used for an event that's restricted to people who sign a pledge to the Republican Party," said Brown. "I've got a problem with that."
    The RNC rented the gymnasium of the Rio Rancho Mid-High School for $500— the standard rate.
    Darren White, Bernalillo County sheriff and Bernalillo County chair of the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election effort, said the Bush pledge requirement is a symbol of the political reality of the times.
    White said the pledge made sense to weed out people who might shout Cheney down or otherwise disrupt his speech.
    Shi said the Bush pledge requirement is not a national policy of the RNC.