Keating king of frequent travelers

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- If he's not hunting elk with friends in northeastern New Mexico, then he's on a fishing expedition in Alaska or an economic development tour in Scandinavia.

Frank Keating has been influential in setting the state's political agenda during six years as Oklahoma's Republican governor. But sometimes it seems Keating's travel agenda takes him out of the state more often than he's in it.

The perception that the state's chief executive is not on duty will be strongest this month, when Keating will be gone most of the time as he crisscrosses the nation to help get out the vote for his party's choice for president, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"That's troubled us," said Gordon Melson, executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

"I understand he's been campaigning a great deal. I think he really is wanting to get to Washington and he's not really that interested in the state's affairs," Melson said.

In October, Keating's busy travel schedule indicates he will be absent on 13 weekdays as he campaigns for the Bush-Cheney ticket and for Republican candidates for governor and Congress from New York City to Washington state.

In the coming week alone, Keating's travel schedule will take him to Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia as part of the Bush-Cheney campaign's "Barnstorm for Reform" tour that will take 29 GOP governors to 48 cities in 24 states in just three days.

On Friday, Keating will attend an Indiana Republican Party fund-raising dinner in Indianapolis. Travel expenses associated with GOP campaign activities are paid by the campaigns or the Republican Party, Keating's press secretary, John Cox, said.

This past week, Keating returned from a weekend hunting trip in New Mexico long enough to catch a plane for Arkansas and Louisiana, where he campaigned for Bush, and to appear on behalf of the GOP ticket in New York City.

On Friday, Keating was off to Vancouver, Wash., to attend a fund-raiser for GOP gubernatorial candidate John Carlson.

The galloping governor's absentee record does not include weekends away or days when he is out of the state just part of the time. In all, Keating's schedule indicates he will be on the job just eight days in October.

The consequence, Melson said, is that the affairs of state are being managed by gubernatorial staffers chosen by Keating and not the voters.

"He should be attending to that," he said.

Melson has accused Keating of violating state ethics rules by going on a fishing trip in Alaska as a guest of the Conoco Corp.

Keating claims that the July 9-13 trip to King Salmon Island, Alaska, valued by Conoco at between $6,000 and $7,000, was a gift to the state intended to promote economic development.

Last month, the chairman of the state Democratic Party criticized a 10-day trip to Denmark, Sweden and Finland by Keating, first lady Cathy Keating and others. Keating was out of the state as wildfires swept across the state and burned thousands of acres of pastures and forests.

Keating described the trip as a "trade and investment mission."

"How much business do Oklahoma companies do with Scandinavia? What is he trying to import, blondes?" said state Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, party chairman.

Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, who acts as chief executive in Keating's absence, has filled the governor's shoes 53 days this year, according to Fallin's chief of staff, Richard Tate.

But Melson said Fallin should take over the reins of government from Oklahoma's traveling governor only occasionally and should not become "kind of a semi-permanent caretaker."

Cox said it is not surprising that Keating, a former chairman of the Republican Governor's Association who was considered by Bush as a running mate, is playing an important role in Republican campaign strategy.

"He is one of the top surrogate governors," Cox said. "He feels like it is very important to do what he can for Bush."

Keating, one of six co-chairmen of the GOP ticket's national caucus team, is one of three Republican governors asked by the Bush campaign to campaign for the ticket.

Keating, who is Catholic, has said the Bush-Cheney ticket has specifically asked him to encourage Catholics throughout the nation to vote Republican on Nov. 7.

That role has already taken Keating to Pennsylvania, where he participated in the Pennsylvania Victory 2000 Catholic Task force Oct. 9-10. Keating will be back in the Northeast encouraging Catholics to vote Republican in the days leading up to the presidential election, Cox said.

Since the Republican National Convention in August, Keating has participated in more than a dozen GOP fund-raisers, campaign rallies and other GOP events across the nation.

In August, Keating attended fund-raisers for Richard Vanroot, the GOP's candidate for governor in North Carolina, and Jim Talent, the GOP candidate for governor of Missouri.

After returning from Scandinavia last month, Keating was off to Rhode Island on a bus tour to promote Bush and Republican Sen.

Lincoln Chaffee. On Sept. 29, he was back in Missouri for another Talent fund-raiser and a Victory 2000 event in Joplin.

So far this month, campaign events have taken Keating to at least 10 states -- not including his own.


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