Faces Will Not Change Much on Education Panels
The conservative avalanche that swept Republicans to control of the Senate and House last week missed several education-friendly Democrats whom supporters feared would be toppled by the country's anti-incumbent fervor.
But those Democrats, as well as Republican incumbents, must now etch new roles in the first Republican-dominated Congress since 1954.
Several key Democratic lawmakers had been considered highly vulnerable, but the Republican surge ousted just three junior Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee and one Democratic member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
The committee members who lost last week were Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash.; Rep. Karan English, D-Ariz.; Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio; and Sen. Harris Wofford, R-Pa.
Two Democrats who have been key players in education budget battles were also on the losing end of re-election bids: Rep. Neal Smith, D-Iowa, who is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees education spending; and Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
While both men have been powerful ranking lawmakers, and dependable supporters of education funding, their very seniority made them targets for the throw-the-bums-out cry of this year's voters.
In contrast, all the Republican incumbents on education committees who sought re-election won, including Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who is in line to be chairman of the House education panel.
The Republican Wave
"The American people went to the voting booth and vented frustration, but the message was very convoluted," said Keith Geiger, the president of the National Education Association. "We must wait for things to sift out."
Mr. Goodling "understands education," Mr. Geiger said. "If he is the chair, and most members come back, I think it will be a positive committee."
Committee assignments will be made in December. Committee chairmanships are also ratified at that time, although the most senior member of the majority party is usually named chairman.
Despite the historic drubbing of Democratic incumbents, many of whom were financially backed by education groups, several lawmakers who have traditionally supported education will return for the 104th Congress.
Most notably, Massachusetts voters extended the 32-year Capitol Hill career of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat who had trailed in early polls.
Republican W. Mitt Romney argued in part that the 62-year-old liberal incumbent had been in Washington too long. But Massachusetts, a liberal stronghold, retained Senator Kennedy by a 17-point margin.
"Senator Kennedy really performed well in his debates; that was probably the turning point," said Howard J. Gold, a professor of government at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
Senator Kennedy will lose his chairmanship of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, probably to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan. Still, Mr. Gold said his status within party ranks may be enhanced by the loss of so many Democrats.
Kildee Wins a Squeaker
Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., also faced a tight race, but will return--and will probably be the chairman of the Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee.
Other races that had been watched carefully by education advocates were those of two senior members of the House Labor and Education Committee who were considered vulnerable.
Returns from Michigan's 9th Congressional District see-sawed for hours before Rep. Dale E. Kildee, a Democrat, was pronounced a four-percentage-point winner over Republican Meagan O'Neil.
Mr. Kildee was the chairman of the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee and will likely return as its ranking minority member.
Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., won his statewide seat by seven percentage points over Republican challenger Cy Jamison, and may take the ranking-Democrat slot on the Postsecondary Education Subcommittee.
Two more junior members who were considered vulnerable won re-election by large margins: Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y.