Weicker Defeat: Education's 'Two-Front' Loss
Copyright 1988 Washington--Education lobbyists expressed dismay last week at the electoral defeat of one of their closest Capitol Hill allies--Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Republican of Connecticut.
"With Mr. Weicker's loss, we lose on two fronts," said Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "We lose one of our best friends among Republicans--so important to maintain bipartisan support for education legislation--and we lose the biggest single advocate for special education."
Although he trailed his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Joseph I. Lieberman, by only a narrow margin, Mr. Weicker conceded defeat the day after the election.
The three-term Senator had served as the ranking minority member on the Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on the handicapped for the last two years, and was its chairman during the preceding six years of Republican control in the Senate.
"We deeply regret the loss of a great champion for exceptional children," said B. Joseph Ballard, associate director of governmental relations for the Council for Exceptional Children. "We are taking it very personally here."
Mr. Ballard said the organization was hoping that another advocate would fill Mr. Weicker's position. Its officials take solace, he said, in the leadership of Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the subcommitte, "who has always shouldered a lot in this area."
Aides to the Labor and Human Resources Committee said last week that they were uncertain who would become ranking minority member on the subcommittee.
One possibility is Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, its only gop holdover from the 100th Congress. To play that role, however, Mr. Cochran would have to give up his ranking position on the subcommittee on the aging.
Although subcommittee ranking members do not have as much authority as chairmen, they control the hiring of some staff aides and often play leadership roles when legislation reaches the full committee and the Senate floor.
Mr. Weicker also was a member of the education subcommittee. With his defeat, the retirement of the ranking minority member, Robert T. Stafford of Vermont, and the election of Dan Quayle to the Vice Presidency, the education subcommittee has lost three of its five Republican members. Only Orrin Hatch of Utah and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina remain. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1988.)
Since either senator could assume the ranking position, depending on their decisions about other committee assignments, observers here were reluctant to make any forecasts.
"Predictions at this time are true soothsaying," said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.
Mr. Weicker's departure also leaves another crucial position open--the ranking minority spot on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees education funding.
In that role, Mr. Weicker has been a vocal opponent of the Reagan Administration's efforts to cut support for domestic programs.
No one knows who will assume Mr. Weicker's position on the appropriations subcommittee, althoughel10lMark Hatfield, the Oregon Republican who serves as ranking member on the full committee, is next in line.
Assuming Mr. Hatfield elects to retain his current ranking spot on the energy and water-development subcommittee, Senators Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are potential candidates for the education job.
Given those possibilities, "a new dynamic is bound to emerge" on the subcommittee, according to Edward R. Kealy, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association.
While bemoaning the loss of Mr. Weicker, education lobbyists said they looked forward to the arrival in the Senate of one of their close allies in the House, James M. Jeffords, Republican of Vermont.
Mr. Jeffords left the House, where he was the ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, to run for Mr. Stafford's seat in the Senate. An easy winner, he has promised to seek a seat on the Labor and Human Resources Committee.
"We have to hope that he will get the assignment," said Mr. Hunter. "He would be a terrific person to fill the gap."
The person slated to succeed Mr. Jeffords on the House committee, Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, was easily re-elected.
All the other members of the Education and Labor Committee and the education-appropriations subcommittee also retained their seats.
Over all, the Congress will remain solidly under the control of the Democrats, who will have an expected 262-to-173 majority in the House, and at least a 55-to-45 edge in the Senate.