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Million Dollar Smile

Had the reality show “Extreme Makeover” existed in 1999, the show’s producers surely would have been banging on Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) door. By now, many folks on Capitol Hill have seen the graphic before-and-after photos of the Senator’s 1999 dental work, which were circulated far and wide Monday after the Minneapolis Star Tribune discovered the photos on a dentist’s promotional Web site.

[IMGCAP(1)] Coleman’s office called the dentist, Frank Milnar in St. Paul, Minn., and recently demanded that the photos be removed from the Web site. The promotional material might appear to violate Senate ethics rules, namely the honoraria ban, which, among other things, prohibits a Member from getting anything of value for a commercial endorsement.

Coleman got his teeth fixed in 1999 when he was mayor of St. Paul and now sports Hollywood-style pearly whites. But before his “restoration” work, as Milnar described it, the Senator had a gap between his two front teeth and other more serious smile impairments.

The gnarly (before) and pearly (after) photos could still be seen as recently as Monday afternoon on Milnar’s Web site, The caption next to the photos read, “Do you deserve a healthy, confident, naturally beautiful smile? Norm Coleman wanted more than an enhanced smile. He wanted peace of mind: lasting, comfortable results.”

Milnar told HOH in a telephone interview that Coleman asked that the toothy photos be removed from his Web site back in 2002 when Coleman was first elected to the Senate. Milnar said although he asked his marketing people to remove the images, “something happened in the chain of command” and the photos stayed on the Web site.

Milnar said use of the Senator’s dental work as advertising on his Web site “had nothing to do with any improprieties or anything.” He said Coleman “never asked me for anything except to do the job right.”

“If anything, it besmirched my name,” the dentist added.

Initially the dentist told the Star Tribune that Coleman’s office was worried about violating ethics rules.

Milnar said he offered Coleman a 20 percent discount, which the then-mayor accepted. The total bill came to $6,000, which Coleman paid, Milnar said.

Coleman’s chief of staff, Erich Mische, said Coleman was not compensated for the advertising. Mische said the office wanted to “err on the side of caution” so he called the dentist and asked that the photos be taken down. He said he did not vet the decision with the Senate Ethics Committee.

“It was a combination of Minnesota common sense and gut instinct,” he said.

More Bunningisms. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) delivered an interesting “thank you” — or a “something you” — to reporters last Tuesday night during the Kentucky Society Ball.

In front of a ballroom packed with about 1,000 guests, Bunning, whose often thorny demeanor became a focal point of last year’s Kentucky Senate race, got up and defended his sanity, lucidity and physical health and attacked several reporters by name.

Kentucky political reporters as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee began questioning Bunning’s well-being on the campaign trail after he made a series of gaffes and odd statements during the race. The remarks ranged from his claim that he does not “watch national news or read the paper,” his assertion that his Italian-American Democratic opponent looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons and his admission that he used a teleprompter during a debate.

Bunning referred to his detractors in his Tuesday night speech when he declared — jokingly — that his alleged incurable cancer had been cured, according to sources at the party. One source recalled Bunning saying, “The truth prevails ’cause here I am.”

Another source paraphrased Bunning as saying, “It’s funny that people said I was mentally incapacitated because I’m up here giving this speech. So I just want to thank the reporters who wrote all this stuff in the Kentucky newspapers.” From there, Bunning proceeded to single out four Kentucky regional reporters, including veteran political journalist David Hawpe of the Courier-Journal in Louisville and Ryan Alessi, a fiery young reporter with the Herald Leader in Lexington.

Sources described the speech as “vindictive,” “absolutely bizarre” and “gleeful over his victory.”

Bunning’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment. But Hawpe told HOH, “I’m surprised that anybody finds this surprising.” He said Bunning has had poor relations with the media going back to his days as a baseball player. But the 2004 campaign, Hawpe said, “was really out of the ordinary.”

Hawpe recalled that Bunning mispronounced Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) name, not a smart political move. A month later, Bunning asked for police protection because he said “there may be strangers among us.” And he claimed that his wife had been roughed up by staff to his opponent, state Sen. Dan Mongiardo (D).

“The voters themselves I think made a judgment about the disturbing and erratic behavior that Senator Bunning exhibited,” Hawpe told HOH. Well, perhaps the voters in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, where Bunning lost badly. But he won big in conservative Western Kentucky, where state Republican politicians spread rumors that Mongiardo was light in his loafers, or as one state Senator put it, “limp wristed.”

Not a Great Start. Freshman Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) was only sworn in a couple of weeks ago, but she’s already facing a political problem back home.

Moore’s son, Sowande Omokunde, was one of five men charged Monday with felony criminal damage to property for allegedly slashing the tires of 25 vans rented by the GOP to get Milwaukee Republicans out on Election Day. Michael Pratt, the son of a former acting mayor of Milwaukee, was also charged.

Omokunde, who goes by the name “Supreme Solar Allah” and lives with his mother, was actually working for the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) when the tire-slashing incident took place, although Democratic officials insist emphatically that neither the Kerry campaign nor the state party had anything to do with it.

Omokunde faces up to three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. Moore’s office did not return several calls seeking comment on the allegations.

Moving On. Anyone who spends nearly four decades around reporters (especially radio and television reporters) and is still sane deserves a nice retirement. After nearly 39 years on the job, Larry Janezich, the director of the Senate Radio and TV Gallery, is leaving.

As director, Janezich has ensured that radio and television journalists who cover Congress get access to the Senate and Senators, and vice versa. “It’s time to go,” Janezich says. “I don’t want my entire life to be defined as having been a Senate bureaucrat.”

At this point, Janezich has no plans, just “a lot of interests.”

Janezich and the Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms, which employs him, were sued in 2001 by a gallery employee who claimed discrimination. The employee, Gloria Halcomb, was fired in May 2003 for misconduct. She claimed that her firing was a direct response to the suit.

Janezich would not discuss the case, which is still pending. But he said his decision to retire had “nothing at all” to do with the suit. His vacancy was posted yesterday on the Senate’s Web site, listing a salary of between $83,938 and $125,842.

Gloating Over His Pats. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his staff are looking forward to a nice Italian lunch — courtesy of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who lost last weekend’s bet between the two Senators.

Kennedy and Santorum had lunch for the other Senator and 20 of his staffers riding on Sunday’s Steelers-Patriots AFC Championship game. Santorum’s Steelers lost.

“It’s very gracious of Senator Santorum to provide lunch from Primanti Brothers … in light of the Pats victory over the Steelers Sunday night. I just hope there are more turnovers for dessert,” said Kennedy. “I wonder if Senator Santorum wants to make another bet so my staff can get a second helping after the Super Bowl?” The Patriots will face another Pennsylvania team, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the Feb. 6. Super Bowl.

A note to readers: The last time Kennedy and Santorum appeared in this column together, hell had frozen over. No, just kidding. But seriously, the last time they appeared together, Kennedy’s driverless, runaway minivan had just careened into Santorum’s car, which was parked near an entrance to the Dirksen Senate Office Building (Kennedy’s driver had jumped out of the minivan and forgotten to put it in park). Good to see there are no hard feelings.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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