Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel is waging a letter-writing campaign harshly critical of House Democrats supporting legislation to protect a national battleground, but Republicans backing the same bill are noticeably absent from his target list.
A spokesman for Hodel said that the only reason 29 Republican co-sponsors of the bill escaped his scorn is that the targets were selected in "haphazard" fashion.
Letters sent by Hodel to 13 newspapers in the home districts of the Democrats say they should be ashamed of themselves for backing a "ludicrous" plan to protect the Manassas National Battlefield Park from nearby development.
Hodel opposes the bill drafted by Reps. Michael A. Andrews (D-Tex.) and Robert J. Mrazek (D-N.Y.) that would require the Interior Department to acquire land now owned by a developer who plans a shopping center, office buildings and residential units next to the Civil War battlefield in Virginia.
Critics say the massive development would destroy the still-rustic feeling of the 4,600-acre battleground.
Interior Department spokesman David Prosperi confirmed that seven House Democrats had been singled out in letters by Hodel but denied that the secretary was targeting only Democrats.
"The selection was done in a very haphazard manner," Prosperi said. "If we had had time, we would have sent (letters) to everyone--Republicans and Democrats."
Letters from Hodel criticizing the measure were sent to 13 newspapers in the congressional districts of Andrews and Mrazek, as well as to papers in the districts of Democratic Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, James McClure Clarke of North Carolina, Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, Jim Slattery of Kansas and Barbara B. Kennelly of Connecticut.
In a letter to the Houston Chronicle, which appeared on May 27, Hodel wrote: "Andrews ought to be ashamed of himself because he is playing politics with the future of Manassas Battlefield. It is easy enough to grab an issue in Washington in order to gain media attention, but the congressman's idea that the solution here is to buy that land adjacent to the battlefield . . . is ludicrous."
Nearly identical language, substituting only the name of the congressman, appeared in the June 9 editions of Long Island Newsday (published in Mrazek's district), the June 16 issues of the Atlanta Daily World (Lewis' district), and the June 28 editions of the Wisconsin State Journal (Kastenmeier's district).
"It's clear that Mr. Hodel's actions have become extremely partisan," Mrazek said. "I found the harshness of the letter surprising."