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State Journal: Neither weirdo nor darling; Job find

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California lawmakers proved recently that while Bill Honig, the ousted state schools chief, may have left the scene, his position remains a focal point of controversy.

In the first confirmation hearing for Sen. Marian Bergeson, the lawmaker nominated by Gov. Pete Wilson to fill the remainder of Mr. Honig's term, an Assembly committee grilled the former teacher for more than four hours on her commitment to the state's public schools.

In a tense exchange with Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin, a probable Democratic contender for the position of schools chief in 1994, the Republican nominee was accused of favoring funding increases for prisons and transportation over higher spending for education.

"Do you think cars are more important than children?'' Ms. Eastin asked.

"Obviously not,'' Ms. Bergeson replied.

In answering a wide range of concerns, Ms. Bergeson countered some of the more strident criticisms of her record, denying that she was a "weirdo creationist'' or a "darling of the right wing.''

The Assembly committee is not expected to vote on the nomination until after a second hearing April 19, when Ms. Bergeson's supporters and opponents will get time.

Leading the opposition to Ms. Bergeson's appointment is an organization called the Coalition for a Superintendent for All Students, which is made up of the California Federation of Teachers, the California School Employees Association, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The powerful California Teachers Association is neutral on the nomination.

The umbrella group said it will take particular issue with the senator's previous stands on school-funding increases, vouchers, and bilingual education.

Ms. Bergeson has expressed surprise at how quickly she has been labeled by education advocates. "It concerns me somewhat that these organizations would come out in opposition without an opportunity to speak to me,'' she told a reporter.


Mr. Honig, meanwhile, has found an answer for now to the money woes he said were dogging him after being convicted on felony conflict-of-interest charges.

He has been appointed a visiting professor at San Francisco State University, where he will earn about $60,000 a year and establish a Center for Systemic School Reform, officials said.--L.H.

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