Originally created 02/12/99

Condon addresses area GOP



AIKEN -- South Carolina's Republican Attorney General Charlie Condon expects a court ruling today on the state's controversial sale of driver's license photos to a New Hampshire business.

But he told members of the Aiken County GOP on Thursday night that the battle probably is far from over to keep Image Data of Nashua, N.H., from making a profit off the faces of unwitting and unwilling South Carolina drivers. A proviso in last year's budget bill gave the state Department of Transportation authority to sell its license database, and it did -- for just $5,000.

Mr. Condon has sued to keep the company from using the pictures in its business, which it promotes as preventing identity fraud.

"We have a simple position," he said. "If they want your picture, they can ask for it, and if they don't ask for it, they don't get it."

After the sale became public, the Department of Transportation developed opt-out forms, which can be requested by people who do not want their pictures used. Mr. Condon said that's not enough, and he got no argument on Thursday's friendly turf.

He also touched on some other programs his office is pushing, including advocacy for crime victims' rights and Internet awareness for families who don't want pedophiles using the Web to prey on children. And he said he expects to go on prosecuting women who use illegal drugs while pregnant "in the only state where it is established law that an unborn viable fetus is -- guess what -- a person."

The reception was less warm for Mr. Condon's plug for his favorite candidate for president in 2000, although several people picked up bumper stickers and buttons for Elizabeth Dole. The crowd of about 60 appeared to favor a suggestion from one of their own -- that Mrs. Dole would be a good vice president under Texas Gov. George Bush Jr.

Although the meeting was billed as Mr. Condon speaking to the county GOP, he spent most of his time at the podium listening. The question-and-answer period was more given to speeches from members of the crowd.

Gambling was one of the hottest topics. Aiken County voters rejected video poker in 1994 but got it anyway when the state Supreme Court invalidated county-by-county referendums. That made the statewide vote allowing video poker apply to all the counties.

But Republicans were rebuffed in last year's elections. Their incumbent governor, David Beasley, lost to Democrat Jim Hodges, whose campaign was heavily fueled by money from the video poker industry.

Now both video poker and a state lottery are likely to go to a public vote, which some Republicans welcome and others fear.

One woman asked Mr. Condon on Thursday, "Those yahoos voted Hodges in, so what on earth can we expect them to do about a lottery and video poker?"

"Make no bones about it," he said. "We lost the election."