Fond Farewells, a Miscue Righted, and Much Muffled Talk

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New Orleans--Departing Secretary of Education William J. Bennett was one of the most popular honorees here, feted at a number of receptions and other gatherings, including one hosted by the conservative Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly's group.

The Forum's $55-a-head "Good Times" party, held at the New Orleans Museum of Art, also honored Robert Bork, the rejected U.S. Supreme Court nominee; Jack Kemp, the one-time Presidential hopeful; Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, author of the federal deficit-reduction act and other budget measures; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, the outspoken former ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bennett was also a guest of honor at receptions sponsored by the Catholic Action Committee and the National Jewish Coalition.

His speaking engagements included, in addition to his Wednesday-night convention address and a speech to the special education forum, appearances at a Republican National Committee seminar and the National Convention Youth Forum.

He was also scheduled to speak to a group of Hispanic students attending the convention but failed to appear.

The contingent of Hispanic young adults was in New Orleans under the auspices of the "Political Education Program for Hispanic Youth," or PEP, the brainchild of an ARCO executive.

Al Zapanta, director of governmental relations for the oil and gas company, said he got the idea for bringing high-school and college students to the convention earlier this summer. "I've always felt that the American political system hasn't done a good job of integrating Hispanic youth into the process," he said.

Contributions from ARCO and other private donors covered the expenses of the 265 students who attended the convention. Selected by local business, community, and political leaders, they came from nine states, mostly in the South and West.

Fifty of the students were chosen to join Vice President George Bush aboard the riverboat Natchez for his picture-perfect entry into the city.

Throughout the week, the students met with an array of political leaders, including Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire, and Ms. Kirkpatrick.

Mr. Zapanta said he had tried to arrange for the group to attend the Democratic convention, but was told by party officials that the hall in Atlanta was too small to accommodate extra groups.

He plans to take the Hispanic youth groups to both conventions in 1992, and to send similar contingents to state conventions every two years.

Pep, he said, is in the process of being incorporated and will be a permanent project at ARCO.

David Frey, a Montgomery County, Md., school employee who captured the Democratic convention on film for high-school government classes, made an unscheduled stop in New Orleans to do the same for Republicans.

It seems that when a county teacher--Richard LaSota, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican party--got wind of the project, he complained to officials that it was unfair to cover only one convention.

"We had chosen to go to Atlanta beel10lcause we could drive there and stay with friends and relatives," said Mr. Frey, who works full time producing programs for the district and travels with a crew of two.

After the protest, officials decided to spend the $3,000 to $4,000 required to send the crew to New Orleans.

Ironically, they were told when they arrived that they could not gain the credentials needed to get inside the convention hall. Several members of the Maryland delegation gave up their seats so that the crew could conclude its filming.

Delegates annoyed with the poor sound system in place here might have benefited if the party's partial rapprochement with the National Education Association had extended to pre-convention arrangements.

The teachers' union, which held its annual convention in the Superdome a month before the Republicans, had offered to split the cost of a sound system to be used there by both groups. But the Republican National Committee said no thanks.

"They said they weren't interested, they wanted their own sound system," said Debra DeLee, associate director for political affairs at the n.e.a. "As it turned out, ours worked fine and theirs didn't."

The system's flaws were much discussed by the media. And on Monday night, many in the hall, unable to hear President Reagan's farewell speech, left to watch it on television.

Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, the keynoter, was also a victim of the sound system. Much of his address, including an account of how his school experiences had changed his life, failed to reach the restive conventioneers. For the record, he said: "As a child, I had a terrible stutter. I also had dyslexia. I overcame those problems, but I couldn't have done it alone. I went to a good school. I had good teachers."

"Today, a lot of children across America struggle with problems. With a little help from a good school or a great teacher, today's stuttering child could be tomorrow's keynote speaker--and today's potential dropout could become tomorrow's Thomas Edison."--rrw

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