'Shadow' Founder Has Answers

Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante brings a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room each week to answer your questions. Today he’s invited the "Shadow Conventions" founder and syndicated columnist, Arianna Huffington to answer your questions in a special convention edition of the Smoke-Filled Room.

Plante: "What are you hoping to accomplish with the 'Shadow Conventions'?" asks our first reader, Jon.

Convention Week Special Edition

During the Republican Convention in Philadelphia there will be daily special editions of Smoke-Filled Room. The next S.F.R. will be Meet The Host. Since January, CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante has been meeting weekly with political insiders and conveying your questions to them. Now it's his turn to do the answering. A thirty-six year veteran of CBS News, Plante has covered the White House terms of both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, as well as their campaigns. Other assignments have included four tours of duty in Vietnam, serving as State Department Correspondent during the Bush administration and covering the Presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Send in your questions and find out what Bill really thinks about Presidential politics and campaigning. And be sure to drop in often and see who else visits the Smoke-Filled Room.

Huffington: Three things. One is to amplify the voices of those who don't have a voice at the other conventions. Number two is to put our three urgent issues on the front burner of the national agenda. And three, to force, push, whatever it takes, to get the two major parties, to address this issue seriously, not just in terms of rhetoric, but it terms of policy.

The three critical issues we are addressing at the Shadow Conventions are the corruption of money in politics, the persistence of poverty in the middle of prosperity and the failed drug war that neither party is willing to address.

Plante: Anne asks "Is anyone really listening? How are you getting your message out with all the publicity given to the Republicans?"

Huffington: Well, we've had amazing coverage. We had John McCain speak to us on Sunday. Paul Wellstone, Granny D. on Monday. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Gary Johnson (R-NM) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA), a lot of activists, thinkers, policy makers. It's been live on CNN, C-SPAN, your network did a segment, every other network has done segments. It's been all over the press. And it's being simultaneously webcast.

Plante: Are you getting a lot of response from viewers?

Huffington: Yes, we’re gtting a tremendous response. We’re getting a lot of hits on our website, www.shadowconvention.com. Thursday is our last day. It will consist of a panel on civic action and civic engagement in the morning followed by a panel on the media which is entitled "Journalism for Crusaders?" In the evening we have rapid response panels where we watch the other convention in real time and respond to what's happening, both satirically and factually. We have a panel of journalists and satirists responding.

Plante: John McCain's speech at the opening of the Shadow Convention was not very well received, notes M.W.C. "Were you surprised that he did not talk about campaign finance reform - after all, wasn't this why he was invited?"

Huffington: Your viewer must not have watched the whole speech. 95% was about campaign finance reform and five percent was about endorsing George Bush. Obviously I don't think he should have been heckled - I intervened to stop it, because that's not the way we should receive guests - even if we don't agree them. But there's no question that when he said George Bush was the best chance for reform, well this was not a statement he would have made, or endorsed, four months ago.

Plante: Will you be changing anything at the convention in Los Angeles? Will there still be the same mix of serious discussion and humor? Will any different topics be addressed than originally planned?

Huffington: No, the same topics, different speakers. Some things will be different. Our venue is much more of a convention hall with an auditorium, with four floors, where there can be breakout sessions, booths. The message is the same. The people are different.

Where there's smoke, is there fire? Sound off on the Campaign 2000 bulletin board!

Plante: Have you completely broken all ties to the Republican? Do they still stand for issues you support, or will you support an Independent candidate for President?

Huffington: Right now I have no allegiance to either party. I am more interested in helping build this movement around America to "change the wind." When we "change the wind," I think coalitions of both parties are going to respond in very different ways.

Plante: The last question is from a reader named Liz. She wants to know what it's like to work with Al Franken.

Huffington: I love working with Al Franken. This year we're not Getting Into Bed Together. But it's great working with him - he's deliciously amusing and he's been cracking very funny and pointed jokes about everything that's going on around here.