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          Front Page




Wilson Scrambling To Keep Energy Seat

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— A spokesman for Rep. Heather Wilson said Thursday that the New Mexico Republican is scrambling to keep her prized seat on the House energy panel after colleagues warned her that the committee chairman is gunning to have her removed.
    Wilson, who was recently re-elected to a third term, has drawn the ire of Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
    The flap stems— at least in part— from Wilson's decision to break ranks with House Republicans on a Sept. 30 vote that would have required the White House to release internal cost estimates of its prescription drug proposal.
    Wilson was the only Republican member in the committee to vote for a motion forcing the White House to release the numbers. The motion ultimately failed.
    According to a Wilson aide, Barton requested a meeting with the congresswoman in his office shortly after Thanksgiving. During the meeting, he told Wilson that he was angry about her vote and asked if she wanted to keep her seat on the energy committee, said Bryce Dustman, Wilson's chief-of-staff. Wilson told Barton she did want to retain the seat in the upcoming 109th Congress.
    Wilson has since heard rumblings, but not from Barton directly, that he wants to boot her off the panel, Dustman said.
    "She has been told by other members of the committee that Barton wants to remove her," Dustman said.
    "We're kind of puzzled about why Chairman Barton would be so upset over a single vote," Dustman said. "Up until Thanksgiving she had an excellent relationship with the chairman."
    Wilson, who represents a politically divided swing district in Albuquerque, often characterizes herself as an "independent" voice in Congress. Democrats frequently portray her as marching in lockstep with Bush and House Republican leaders.
    Wilson has voted the Republican party line at least 90 percent of the time over the past three years, according to Congressional Quarterly, which tracks members' voting records.
    Wilson made news recently when she voted against a House Republican effort that would allow House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to keep his leadership position even if he were to be indicted for his role in controversial campaign fund-raising tactics.
    That vote came a week before Thanksgiving. Barton and DeLay, both Texans, are known to be very close political allies.
    A spokesman for Barton on the Energy and Commerce Committee did not return a phone call Thursday.
    Dustman said Wilson is unsure just how likely it is that she will lose her committee assignment. The House Republican steering committee will meet in January to dole out committee assignments for the 109th Congress. In the meantime, she will lobby to keep her seat, Dustman said.
    The energy panel has extensive influence on events in New Mexico, with authority over the budgets for the national laboratories and the ability to set policy relating to oil, natural gas and other natural resources. Wilson also serves on the House Armed Services Committee.