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Making history

If they hadn't been immersed in politics, two school workers might not have recognized the voices coming over their police scanner as they drove home to Fort White, Fla., after buying Christmas presents last month.

But John and Alice Martin, employees of the Columbia County schools and members of the Florida Teaching Profession-NEA, both are active Democrats. And when the couple heard the voices of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other House Republican leaders discussing Mr. Gingrich's ethics troubles in a telephone conference call, they realized they were listening to "part of history," Mr. Martin said last week at a press conference.

So Mr. Martin, who described himself as "a political buff," recorded the conversation on a portable cassette recorder he had in the car. That action and the Martins' decision to turn the tape over to the senior Democrat on the House ethics panel investigating Mr. Gingrich made the couple part of history--and a political firestorm--last week.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for the Martins to receive stiff penalties for taping the conversation. Mr. Boehner was in Florida last month and using his cellular phone, which broadcast the call the Martins picked up. It is a felony to intentionally intercept or disclose the contents of a phone call. The FBI is investigating the incident.

"They tried to act like a couple of country bumpkins, but they're Democratic activists," Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. Martin is a maintenance worker at Lake City Middle School in Lake City and a member of the board of directors of the FTP-NEA. Mrs. Martin is a teacher's aide at the K-8 Fort White Public School. Both have served as officers of the Columbia County Democratic Executive Committee.

Cathy Kelly, the assistant executive director of the NEA affiliate, said the Martins' activities "had nothing to do with their relationship with this organization or with the fact that they happen to work for schools."

--ANN BRADLEY [email protected]

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