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Appropriations chair David Obey is retiring

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. David Obey, a leading liberal Democrat and chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that he will retire at the end of his term this year, dealing Democrats defending their majority another blow in an election season of voter discontent.

"There is a time to stay and a time to go," the Wisconsin lawmaker told reporters. "And this is my time to go."

Obey won the first of 21 terms in 1969 — when a special election was held after President Richard Nixon tapped Melvin Laird to be his defense secretary. He faced a potentially bruising re-election campaign this fall, and his retirement is likely to make it easier for Republicans to pick up his seat.

Obey, 71, among a handful of veteran House Democrats who had been bracing for competitive races this fall, has routinely won re-election. In 2008 he did so with 61 percent of the vote.

One dead, one hurt in Army base blast

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — One of two contract workers injured in an explosion Wednesday while removing a propellant from rockets at Redstone Arsenal has died.

Deputy Public Affairs Officer Kimberly Henry said the two injured were taken to the burn unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham. UAB Hospital spokesman Bob Shepard says one man died of his injuries Wednesday night. He says the other worker is in critical condition.

Henry said a third person escaped injury from the blast, which occurred at 8:45 a.m. CDT and left part of the building in wreckage. She said all other personnel were accounted for.

The two taken to the hospital, whose names were not released, worked for a base contractor, Amtech Corp.

Henry said the explosion happened while workers were removing a propellant, ammonium perchlorate, from the rockets. There was no word on what caused the chemical to explode.

Joe the Plumber is elected to party post

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Joe the Plumber is plunging into party politics.

Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, who was hailed by Republican John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, won one of nearly 400 seats on the local Republican Party committee in Ohio's Lucas County.

But don't call him Joe the Politician just yet.

The group he'll serve on meets only a few times a year to elect the county chairman and sets the party agenda. Wurzelbacher won the seat by a 38-24 vote Tuesday in his suburban Toledo precinct.

He became an overnight sensation almost two years ago after questioning then-Sen. Barack Obama on the campaign trail about his economic policies and then when McCain repeatedly cited "Joe the Plumber" in a debate.

18-wheeler explodes at Texas refinery

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — An 18-wheeler being loaded with fuel at a San Antonio refinery exploded Wednesday, setting off a chain reaction of smaller explosions and sending a towering plume of thick black smoke over the city's southeast side. One man was critically burned, and other employees received minor injuries.

A truck driver believed to be missing for hours after the blast was found after a dense funnel of smoke dissipated as the fire burned itself out, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said. Firefighters focused on shutting off valves and cooling down tanks — the larger of which contained jet fuel — to prevent any more explosions.

Three tanker trucks were at the AGE Refining Inc. fueling station when the explosion occurred, Hood said. The burned man was the driver of one of the trucks, but Hood said it was unclear which one.

Atlantis' last flight set for May 14

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Space shuttle Atlantis is set to blast off on its final flight next week. NASA's top managers agreed Wednesday to set May 14 as the launch date. Liftoff would be at 2:20 p.m.

Atlantis will fly to the International Space Station, carrying up a crew of six and a load of supplies. Much of that is crammed inside a Russian-built module that will be attached permanently to the orbiting lab complex. The astronauts will venture out on three spacewalks to plug in fresh batteries and tack on a spare antenna.

The 12-day mission is scheduled to be the last for Atlantis. NASA is retiring its three shuttles at the end of this year. After this flight, only two will be left.

But Atlantis won't be dismantled and head to a museum when the flight is over. Instead, the spaceship will be prepped for a potential rescue mission for NASA's very last shuttle flight. That final trip, by Endeavour, is scheduled for November at the earliest. Discovery is supposed to make its last trip in September.

Judge lifts stay in Michigan militia case

DETROIT (AP) — A judge lifted a stay Wednesday night and cleared the way for nine members of a Michigan militia to be released from jail while awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government and weapons violations.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts rejected a request to keep them detained while prosecutors pursue an appeal of her order that releases the defendants with strict conditions, including electronic monitoring. Roberts ruled about six hours after the government claimed the public could be at risk if she does not further suspend her Monday order and the militia members go home.

They won't actually be free until they're returned to federal court to be processed, which could happen Thursday. Meanwhile, prosecutors could ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati for an emergency stay blocking Roberts' order