State Journal: Mending fences in Tennessee
Gov. Ned McWherter of Tennessee and his predecessor, U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, made another chummy joint appearance in Nashville recently, each praising the other's education-reform plans.
The camaraderie was the latest attempt to build support both for Mr. McWherter's educationreform package, which remains stalled in a House-Senate conference committee, and for tax-reform efforts tabled by lawmakers.
The cordial meeting was also seen as a further attempt to mend fences between the Volunteer State's top politicians.
The two were portrayed as unhappy rivals earlier this year after Mr. Alexander criticized the Democratic Governor's leadership during the legislative session and the state began to investigate financial dealings at the University of Tennessee during Mr. Alexander's tenure as president.
In late August, Mr. Alexander joined Mr. McWherter at breakfast, where they swapped education plans and agreed to take a fresh look at each other's ideas.
Mr. Alexander said he could support much of the Governor's education bill, but offered a list of six suggestions, including stronger teacher-training provisions, expanded alternativecertification efforts, programs for poor students, and greater parental choice.
Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smith responded, however, that all of the constructive criticism had already been considered and that many of the provisions were included in the package previously.
Coinciding with Mr. Alexander's endorsement, Mr. McWherter said Tennessee would endorse President Bush's America 2000 education plan.
While recent events have given the appearance of unity, many in the state are still not sure the two leaders are genuinely working together.
The officials' first attempt at a reconciliation was seen with some cynicism. An editorial cartoon in the Chattanooga Times, for example, pictured them from behind, with their arms on each other's backs. As they tell a crowd they are "for the kids," each is placing a "Kick Me" sign on the other.
Mr. Alexander said after his most recent visit with the Governor that he was not sure if his kind words would translate to G.O.P. support.
"I think the main thing I can do is help create a bipartisan climate that values education," Mr. Alexander said.
"He's here to help us," added Mr. McWherter. "We need all the help we can get." --L.H.