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TOM RIDGE Ex-governor enjoys the simple pleasures



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



His immediate focus is on finding a job in the private sector.

HARRISBURG (AP) -- Less than two weeks out of his job as the nation's first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge says he loves driving again -- even if it's behind the wheel of "a mommy car."

Ridge, who also had an official driver during nearly seven years as Pennsylvania governor, said his teenage son ribs him whenever he's driving the family minivan, a Honda Odyssey.

"My son says, 'Dad, you're driving a 'mommy car','" Ridge said with a laugh Friday night. "I said, 'Yeah, the 'mommy car' has gotten you, your sister and the three dogs around for a long time, and your dad's enjoying it.'"

Chatting easily

Visibly more relaxed than when he headed the 180,000-employee department, Ridge chatted easily with a couple of reporters as he took a backstage path through a hotel in the Pennsylvania capital, from a private reception to a Republican State Committee dinner where he was the speaker.

Ridge said he especially enjoys listening to music while he's driving and confessed that he seeks out the oldies stations wherever he happens to be.

"I haven't listened to music on a radio for three years," he said. "I've got guys with stuff coming out of their ears and you think, 'Man, they're probably listening to an iPod' and I think they're security."

Ridge, 59, said he figures he's as good a highway navigator as his government drivers were.

"I don't even mind getting lost."

Ridge, who has said his family plans to stay in Bethesda, Md., for now, said he enjoys spending more time with his son and daughter, as well as other aspects of life outside of government.

"It's kind of neat. ... I took my shoes off when I took a commercial flight. I waited for my luggage like everybody else," he said. "There's a world out there that's a lot different than those of us who are privileged to serve in public service" are accustomed to.

While he stressed his immediate focus is on finding a job in the private sector, he allowed that he is talking with prospective Republican challengers to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who is expected to seek re-election next year.

First in a while

And he said Friday's dinner was the first political event he had attended since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Shortly after the attacks, Ridge cut short his second term as governor to coordinate homeland security for President Bush. He was named to head the new department a year later.

Ridge's resignation took effect Feb. 1. The president has nominated Michael Chertoff, a judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals, to succeed him.

In his dinner speech, Ridge said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him soon after he went to Washington that he would have a staff of "15 or 20" people but that the number would be flexible.

"I ended up with 180,000," he said. "This has got to be a new definition of flexibility."




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