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NATIONAL

A GOP Revolution Not Yet Finished

Just four days into the new year, Richard Gephardt, minority leader of the House of Representatives, did something no Democrat has done since 1955: surrender the Speaker's gavel to a Republican.

"I hereby end 40 years of Democratic rule," Congressman Gephardt said darkly, turning to Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich. "You are now my Speaker. Let the great debate begin."

Although its "greatness" is open to interpretation, the first year of the 104th Congress has definitely been contentious. Both the House and Senate have spent record numbers of hours in session, and budget scrapes have halted government twice.

At stake is what role the federal government should play in the lives of Americans. Republicans have sought to reduce this role by reforming Medicare and welfare systems, abolishing scores of programs, and introducing comprehensive rewrites of laws governing telecommunications, immigration, and the environment.

But progress is slow. House Republicans have passed all but one of the items in their "Contract With America," but only three have been signed by President Clinton. Likewise, the linchpin of Speaker Gingrich's self-proclaimed "revolution" - the seven-year balanced budget - is not likely to pass without significant GOP concessions, especially on tax cuts.

So, the 1995 chapter heading in the history books remains uncertain. It will be remembered either as the dawn of a conservative realignment in American politics, or as a curious anomaly crushed by a fickle electorate.

One word that will certainly not appear in that chapter, however, is "dull."

- Sam Walker

The Explosive Force of Domestic Terrorism

Domestic terrorism and its ties to antigovernment militias hit the United States with explosive force in 1995.

The truck bombing that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, killing 169 people and injuring 500 others, was the most shocking event.

But there were related episodes as well: the deliberate derailing of an Amtrak train in Arizona on Oct. 9; the forced publication on Sept. 19 by The New York Times and The Washington Post of a 35,000-word manifesto by the so-called "Unabomber," a shadowy figure suspected of killing three people and injuring 22 over the past 17 years; revelations about violence-prone militia groups and racist organizations cropping up around the country, some apparently finding support within the US military.

Last week, two men were charged with planting a bomb outside the Reno, Nev., offices of the Internal Revenue Service. The device failed to explode. Earlier this year, small bombs damaged a Nevada office of the US Forest Service and the car of a Forest Service employee.

Is there a pattern? The Oklahoma bombing, allegedly by Timothy McVeigh, apparently was in retaliation for the 1993 attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, by the FBI and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Militia members also cite the 1992 federal raid on white supremacists at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, (along with gun-control and anticrime legislation) as reasons to fight the federal government - violently, if necessary.

Official reports were critical of federal government action at both Waco and Ruby Ridge. The fallout included a personnel shakeup at the FBI. And the agency's "shoot to kill" policy was changed.

- Brad Knickerbocker

Polarized High Court Turns on Swing Votes

The Supreme Court continued to hear fewer cases in 1995. But its term ending in June was hardly quiet - and this fall it continued to confront controversial issues as it heard cases on homosexual rights and racially based voting districts.

For the first time in 60 years, the high court ruled last June to limit the oversight of Congress in imposing regulations on states. It also weakened long-held legal distinctions based on race - in voting rights and affirmative action. And it witnessed a bold new activism among its most conservative members, particularly Justice Clarence Thomas.

To many, the nine justices seem polarized between an activist right defined by Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia and a moderate wing dominated by Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter.

But the court's direction may ultimately be in the hands of Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor, whose swing votes occupy a thin middle-ground position. Mrs. O'Connor cast the deciding vote in 11 major 5-to-4 decisions last year.

In important decisions this year, the court put a crack in the First Amendment wall separating church and state when it ruled that student-activity funds could not be denied by the University of Virginia to an evangelical Christian magazine run by students.

Grizzly bears beat out land developers in the first major environmental ruling in 20 years as the court backed the Endangered Species Act, allowing federal agencies to protect habitats on private land.

The coming year will provide decisions on two important civil rights issues. In Romer v. Evans, the justices must decide if a 1992 Colorado voter referendum that abolished local gay-rights laws is constitutional.

And having twice ruled against voting districts created using race as a guideline, the court must define in Bush v. Vera and Shaw v. Hunt how to decide if a district is created unfairly.

- Robert Marquand

Dole Leads GOP Presidential Pack Into the Primaries

IF he could write the legislation to do it, Sen. Bob Dole might be inclined to do away with January this year. From where he sits, the presidential primaries are coming with all the vim of cold molasses.

Sure, it's nice having no apparent obstacles to the Republican nomination. Retired Gen. Colin Powell sold a lot of books in 1995, but in the end choose not to challenge the senator from Kansas for the GOP candidacy.

With Mr. Powell gone, Dole has no GOP rival in sight. But leading the pack and gaining the nomination are distinctly different tasks, and nobody knows that better than Senator Dole, who is mounting his third attempt at the White House since 1980. Last time around, in 1988, Dole's triumph in Iowa turned into defeat in New Hampshire a week later, and Vice President George Bush rode away with the nomination.

Now, even though Dole remains at least 20 points ahead of his rivals, some pesky questions remain. As voters begin to pay more attention, and the campaigns kick into high gear, the next six weeks will be crucial.

Will Lamar Alexander or Steve Forbes break from the pack? Will voters judge Dole too old for the job? With President Clinton gaining popularity, will conservatives decide that Dole can't beat the incumbent in a general election?

As the saying goes: It ain't over until it starts.

- Kurt Shillinger

The World's Most Scrutinized Trial

FOR the better part of 1995, Los Angeles played epicenter to the unprecedented temblor of self-examination that rocked American race relations, police work, gender relations, the American legal system, and the news media.

Spotlights came - and finally went - because of worldwide fascination over the courtroom trial of a former football star charged with murdering his ex-wife and her friend. O.J. Simpson's name became so ubiquitous that few want to hear it anymore.

The names of the other players became household words as well but were deemed less important than the roles they played in forcing issues to the fore: An Asian-American judge raised the general question of judicial temperament and the specific test of cameras in the courtroom.

Racially and gender-mixed prosecution and defense teams went to the mat with witnesses and each other over evidence and procedure. They made buzzwords of domestic violence and jury nullification (urging the jury to use its verdict to "send messages" to the world, remember?)

A racist cop put police training and screening procedures on trial. Evidence experts put DNA testing and evidence-gathering procedure on trial. Twelve jurors and 12 alternates put jury sequestration on trial. A flaky houseguest put American fascination with - and the definition of - celebrity on trial. The whole thing put the city's composure on trial.

In the end, the former football and movie star was found not guilty. The jury is still out on the rest.

- Dan Wood

The Puzzling Decline In Urban Homicide Rates

CRIMINOLOGISTS were surprised by a sharp drop in the 1995 murder rate in major US cities - from New York to Los Angeles and Atlanta to Chicago.

The falling homicide rate is considered a good barometer of safer streets because it is consistently reported to police. Up to half of all other violent crimes go unreported.

Some experts attribute the decline to community policing and using computers to map and target high-crime neighborhoods. Others cite tougher laws, longer prison sentences, and stricter law enforcement, including gun seizures. But some experts warn that it is a temporary dip due to demographic trends and will soon rebound as the teen population grows.

Black March for Unity, Renewal

ON a sparkling October morning, an estimated 800,000 African-American men thronged on Washington's Mall in a celebration of black unity and self-determination unsurpassed since the 1960s civil rights movement.

Some men clapped and sang as at a church revival meeting, while others militantly clenched their fists. But all seemed united by a buoyant awareness that their Million Man March was making history.

"We are one," they chanted, hugging each other and raising clasped hands above the festive crowd. Primarily middle class, Democrat, Christian, and aged in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, the men vowed to love one another, abstain from violence and drugs, and improve themselves "spiritually ... politically, and economically."

Since the massive rally, the men have evidently returned to their communities with a renewed commitment to do good. Men from the march have volunteered to mentor black youths, monitor the halls in inner-city schools, join churches and civic groups, adopt black children, register black voters, and patrol streets in crime-prone black neighborhoods.

This wave of grass-roots activism has eclipsed much of the early controversy over the march's initiator, Louis Farrakhan, leader of the black separatist group, the Nation of Islam. Indeed, most local activists are far more concerned about Washington's impending budget cuts, which have lent a now-or-never urgency to their efforts to strengthen their communities.

Still unanswered, however, is the question of whether the unity of purpose enshrined at the march and the spirit of activism carried back home will translate into a more vigorous national black leadership and concrete political gains for blacks.

- Ann Scott Tyson

Environmental Deregulation Stalls

IT may not have made the headlines that budget battles and sending US troops to Bosnia did. But the environment turned into a major political issue in 1995, involving fundamental debates over the purpose of the federal government.

The newly Republican Congress vowed to shorten Uncle Sam's regulatory reins by injecting economic considerations, a greater role for state government, and concern for individual property rights into federal environmental policies.

In some cases, this took the form of head-on attacks: proposals to strictly limit protection for endangered species and reduce constraints on water and air polluters; efforts to open up more areas (such as Alaska) to natural resource development; deep budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency.

In other areas, the effort was indirect - making the federal government pay property owners for restrictions on development tied to environmental protection, for example. One GOP tactic was to attach to unrelated bills "riders" that would affect environmental standards without full congressional debate.

All this seemed to reinvigorate the environmental movement, especially when moderate Republicans resisted the efforts of their more conservative colleagues, and President Clinton - who had disappointed many environmentalist activists - vowed to unleash his veto pen.

At year's end, measures such as reform of the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup act and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling remained unpassed. Most Republican efforts to dramatically scale back environmental protection had either stalled in Congress or been vetoed by Mr. Clinton.

- Brad Knickerbocker

ETCETERAS

'Neither political party speaks to people where they live their lives. Both have moved away from my own idea of what America can be.'

- Sen. Bill Bradley

The moderate Democrat from New Jersey announced last August that he would not seek reelection. The GOP sweep of Capitol Hill prompted Senator Bradley and several other senior brokers of the center - including Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, Bennett Johnston (D) of Louisiana, and Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas - to announce departures. Another longtime moderate, Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon, also retired, dogged by ethical and sexual allegations.

*

'We had our opportunity to run to the South many years ago. We didn't do it then. We're not going to do it now.'

- Aaron Feuerstein

The factory owner paid holiday bonuses and will rebuild Malden Mills in Lawrence, Mass., despite a devastating fire.

*

'It means turning around the ... coarsening of the culture that has afflicted our country for 30 years.'

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition. The conservative group became a key player on Capitol Hill.

*

'There's been so much controversy, I don't think EAI's had a chance.'

- Thelma Dickerson.

The Hartford, Conn., school-board member lamented the drastic curtailing of a high-profile experiment in private control of public schools. Baltimore last fall cancelled its contract with Education Alternatives Inc.

*

Despite congressional hearings, disputes over the suicide of White House assistant-counsel Vincent Foster, and sparring over release of papers related to Whitewater, few see a Watergate brewing. Unless a major break occurs, many say the issue won't damage Clinton's reelection campaign.

*

'They're showing us how to better take care of women. We're just a bunch of guys trying to figure out how to do things right.'

- Harvey McAnally.

Mr. McAnally was one of 65,000 men who filled Atlanta's Georgia Dome in July for a Promise Keepers rally. The five-year-old evangelical Christian men's movement packed US stadiums last year.

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