Groundhog's day of politics goes awry


Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 7

Punxsutawney Phil tried his hand in politics Tuesday and, in one day, managed to taste it all -- the media spotlight, backstabbing, and a trip back home under lock and key.

The world's most famous groundhog, who every year tries to predict the length of winter, was brought to the national capital by a powerful patron, Representative John Peterson, who managed to slip US$100,000 into this year's budget for a museum showcasing the weatherbeast.

The project is getting so much flak that the Republican lawmaker sought to mollify detractors by bringing the furry beneficiary to Capitol Hill.

It has backfired. Big time.

"If they are trying to make a silk purse out of a groundhog's ear, it isn't working," remarked Congressman Jeff Flake acidly. "I'm sure this weather museum does some great things, but why is the federal government paying for it?"

Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, noted that Phil's museum will be getting the same amount of money from Congress as the Punxsutawney Area Hospital.

The group Citizens Against Government Waste bestowed on Peterson and Phil the dubious title of "Co-Porkers of the Month."

The unsuspecting animal, who has not quite awakened from his usual winter slumber, was accused of "burrowing holes in taxpayers wallets." On real Groundhog Day, the organization somberly predicted, Phil will see not his shadow but "10 more years of deficits."

The animal is usually shown to the public every Feb. 2 during a nationally-televised ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Old German legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow on that day, cold weather will last another six weeks. If, on the other hand, he does not, early spring is on the way.

The ceremony that organizers insist has been observed since 1887 gained in popularity after the 1993 romantic comedy Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

Phil's public thrashing, however, was a symptom of a larger problem frustrating many people in Washington: wasteful spending.

Senator John McCain has identified at least US$11 billion worth of so-called "pork" projects in the US$388 billion budget rushed through Congress last month, including one that designated US$25,000 to study mariachi music in Nevada.