Pubdate: Wed, 27 Mar 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: John Williams


City Councilman Carroll Robinson has turned up the heat in the Democratic 
primary runoff for the 25th Congressional District, circulating e-mail 
about opponent Chris Bell's previous acknowledgment of youthful marijuana use.

In an e-mail sent to 13,000 potential voters in the district in south 
Harris County and north Fort Bend County, Robinson cites an article in 
which Bell admitted smoking marijuana in college.

"Chris Bell is an admitted user of illegal drugs," the e-mail states, 
adding other allegations against Bell.

Bell said the e-mail demonstrates Robinson's frustration as the 
second-place candidate with an April 9 runoff nearing.

In the March 12 primary, Bell received 36 percent to 27 percent for 
Robinson as they eliminated two other candidates and advanced to the runoff.

The other candidates, former state Rep. Paul Colbert and Houston lawyer 
Stephen King, are expected to endorse Bell today.

"How desperate can a campaign be when it wants to talk about something that 
happened more than than 20 years ago and has absolutely nothing to do with 
anything?" Bell, 42, asked Tuesday. "This is a man who wanted to sign a 
clean campaign promise, and he stoops to this."

Robinson, 40, said he has never used illegal drugs and does not drink 
alcoholic beverages.

Robinson said there is nothing wrong with pointing out facts Bell has admitted.

"I want everybody to know the truth relative to the candidate running for 
Congress, and I think that's an important piece of information people ought 
to know," he said.

Bell made his admission in the Feb. 18, 2001, edition of the weekly Houston 
Press. Bell, then a City Council colleague of Robinson's, had announced 
intentions to run for mayor, a race he eventually lost.

The article stated, "Bell says he saw little of the student drug scene, 
never used psychedelics and admits to smoking marijuana `maybe four times.' "

Admissions of drug use have been a slippery slope for many baby boomer 
politicians who came of age as drugs became common on college campuses.

Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore admitted to drug 
use in their earlier years. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich confessed to 
smoking marijuana in graduate school, and said there was nothing wrong with 
it then because it was simply "a sign" of being "alive" during the 1960s.

University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray said that 
in many cases, voters appreciate the honesty of a candidate who admits 
youthful indiscretions rather than lying about them.

When Clinton made the now-famous assertion that he smoked but didn't inhale 
marijuana as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, Murray said he did 
local opinion polling that indicated area voters weren't turned off by the 

"It didn't have a lot of punch back then, and I doubt it does now," Murray 
said. "The public is very forgiving of misdemeanors like DWI or smoking 
marijuana when it happened as a youth."

Bob Stein, dean of social sciences at Rice University, agreed. But he said 
Robinson, who is black, may be bringing up the drug-use issue in a bid for 
black votes.

"Drugs are a scourge of the African-American community, more than in the 
white community, so this could be a targeted message," Stein said.

Analysts say that to win the runoff, Robinson will need more than the 65 
percent of the black vote he got in the first round March 12.

And Bell, who is white, expects to continue getting some black support 
because he has the endorsement of Lee Brown, Houston's first black mayor.

Besides the marijuana admission, Robinson's e-mail also brings up issues 
used against Bell in his failed mayoral bid.

Among them were Bell's receiving an award from the Harris County Republican 
Party for supporting a municipal property-tax cut two years ago, and the 
temporary suspension of his law license for failure to pay State Bar of 
Texas dues.

Bell's law firm -- Beirne Maynard & Parsons -- took responsibility for the 
oversight and subsequently paid the dues, allowing Bell's license to be 

"We knew from the first day after the election that Carroll would go 
negative, and it looks like he has," Bell said. "I guess he has to."
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