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President to address governors

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — President Clinton was scheduled to speak about health care to the nation's governors here Monday afternoon.

National Governors' Association Chairman Gov. Mike Leavitt wasn't briefed on the nature of the talk.

"He speaks on whatever he wants and as long as he wants," said Leavitt.

A White House spokesman said Clinton was to focus on health care, underscoring that slowing health care costs have cut inflation and strengthened the economy. Clinton has been touting the need for a patient's bill of rights lately.

Aide Jason Schechter said the president also was to touch on the need for a prescription drug benefit for older Americans. Schechter said the president was to talk about the economic turn-around during his administration.

Clinton has attended 11 NGA gatherings as president and governor of Arkansas.

On Sunday, a man many Americans wouldn't mind seeing in the White House took center stage.

Looking and sounding quite vice presidential, even presidential, retired Gen. Colin Powell reiterated he has neither the passion nor the commitment for elected office.

With possible running mates for George W. Bush all the buzz at the Penn State Conference Center over the weekend, the question was bound to rise again.

"I have ruled out elected office," Powell told reporters prior to his speech to the nation's governors. "I'm happy in private life right now."

But that doesn't mean he wouldn't consider a presidential appointment to a high-level office.

Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged he has had "lots" of conversations with Bush and likely will have more. He wouldn't reveal whether he and the Texas Republican have discussed a Cabinet post.

Democrats, too, still vie for the popular Powell's affection.

"We'd be delighted to have you in Los Angeles (site of the Democratic National Convention) as well," Gov. James Hunt Jr., D-North Carolina, told Powell at one point.

Leavitt introduced Powell, relating a story about how he and Powell once went for a spin in a semi outside the Salt Lake Airport. Leavitt said he'd heard Powell had expressed interest in driving a big rig, so he had one waiting when Powell arrived on a trip to Utah.

The pair drove down a frontage road, surprising three women having lunch outside a building when Powell couldn't get the truck turned around without backing up.

In his prepared remarks, Powell, chairman of America's Promise — The Alliance for Youth, delivered the same message he did at last year's NGA meeting and during a speech in Salt Lake City last December.

"We have nothing more important to do in America than to build our kids and stop building jails," he said.

Powell touched on his disdain for television talk shows like "Jerry Springer" and "Sally Jesse Raphael," an outspokenness that gets him into trouble with AOL/Time Warner on whose board he sits. Images of "dysfunctional, goofy people" that the industry passes off as "just entertainment" are harmful to children, he said.

"It's the exploitation of broken, sick people for our entertainment, worse than a Roman circus."

E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com