Frist will not seek presidency in 2008

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 10:10 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Wednesday he will not run for president in 2008, the most high-profile campaign dropout among Republicans more than a year before the first convention delegates are chosen.

``In the Bible, God tells us for everything there is a season, and for me, for now, this season of being an elected official has come to a close. I do not intend to run for president in 2008,'' Frist said in a statement _ his only planned comment on the decision.

Earlier, Frist had decided not to seek a third term in the Senate. His announcement Wednesday caps a 12-year stint in electoral politics in which he rose from an underdog in his 1994 Senate campaign to the position of majority leader a mere eight years later.

Among the Republicans already exploring a White House bid are Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also is considering pursuing the GOP nomination.

Other potential GOP contenders include Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Charles Hagel of Nebraska, Govs. George Pataki of New York and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

Earlier this fall, former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia also announced he will not run for the presidency in 2008. Warner, like Frist, had begun putting in place a campaign organization to raise money and line up supporters in early caucus and primary states, as well as nationally.

As a presidential candidate, Frist would have had to contend with several ethics controversies.

He has a multi-million-dollar fortune gained largely through his ownership of stock in Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), a hospital chain founded by his brother and father. The company later became Columbia/HCA Healthcare.

HCA was the subject of a decade-long federal investigation into double-bookkeeping and suspected criminal fraud involving the bilking of Medicare and other federal health programs. The company has paid $1.7 billion in fines.

In 2005, Frist sold his HCA shares, which had been in a blind trust, at a time when the price of stock shares was peaking and insiders were also selling. Two weeks later the company announced that earnings would not meet expectations, causing a substantial drop in the share price.

For more than a year, Frist has been under investigation by the SEC regarding allegations of insider trading. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, although he has not gained the quick resolution of the issue that he had hoped for.

Frist also failed to publicly disclose his role in two family charitable foundations. Questions have arisen regarding his role on the board of a third charitable foundation that paid consulting fees to members of his political inner circle.

In August, The Associated Press reported that Frist did not complete the 40 hours of continuing medical education every two years needed to keep his state medical license active, although he submitted paperwork to Tennessee officials indicating that he had.

Frist was a physician with no experience in politics when he challenged Democratic Sen. Jim Sasser. He was swept into office in that year's Republican landslide.

In the 2001-02 election cycle, when Republicans gained seats, Frist headed the Senate campaign committee. He was chosen majority leader after the election when Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., was forced to step down after making racially insensitive remarks at a birthday celebration for Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.

Frist was widely criticized in 2005 for pandering to religious conservatives by injecting himself into the debate over Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed. Frist viewed a videotape of the woman, then publicly questioned the diagnosis of her doctors. An autopsy later confirmed their judgment, not his.

Frist's political action committee, which allowed him to travel and build a donor base, had raised $7.5 million between Jan. 1, 2005, and Oct. 18, 2006. The PAC spent $8.2 million during that period.

``Karyn and I will take a sabbatical from public life,'' he said in a statement. ``At this point a return to private life will allow me to return to my professional roots as a healer and to refocus my creative energies on innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges Americans face.''