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Moderation Seen Education Message in Races for Governor

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In an election year lacking overriding education messages, state races last week seemed to carry only the cautionary note that Republicans who boast about being conservative don't wind up giving victory speeches.

In races for open governors' seats, voters in New Hampshire and Washington state shied away from Republican contenders who flashed conservative credentials and promised to give school vouchers a try.

"After all the public school bashing, people wanted somebody who could have a rational conversation with everyone in the state who wants to improve the schools," Fred Place, the president of the National Education Association-New Hampshire, said.

In the Granite State, Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic state senator and former teacher, trounced the former state school board chairman, Republican Ovide Lamontagne, to win the governor's chair.

Mr. Lamontagne had argued during the campaign that teacher tenure should be repealed and that state funding for kindergarten programs should instead be spent on vouchers for 5-year-olds.

In Washington state, Democrat Gary Locke, the chief executive in King County, easily beat Ellen Craswell, a former state senator who boasted about her credentials as a conservative Christian.

She had backed a statewide voucher initiative that failed and called for less state intrusion for parents who home-school their children.

Most of the candidates in this fall's gubernatorial races avoided expensive or sweeping education promises. And in all seven states where governors sought re-election, the incumbents won. (See box, this page.)

More than any broad school reform agenda, observers said, the education message from this year's state contests was moderation.

Public School Support

"People thought Ellen Craswell was a little bit out of touch with the mainstream," said Dwayne Slate, the associate executive director of the Washington State School Directors' Association. "Most people in this state support the public schools. They want to improve them, not destroy them."

In her campaign, Ms. Craswell said a top priority would be smaller government--a goal that could be reached through privatization of services. She suggested, for example, that the management of the University of Washington could be farmed out.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Lamontagne was pummeled for refusing to accept federal funds under the Clinton's administration's Goals 2000 program. And he, too, said the state should look at substantial privatization.

"He spent too much time bashing the public schools even though on every test our students take, they always do very well," said Mr. Place, a former industrial arts teacher.

Democrats Take Statehouses

In state legislative races, Democrats made some impressive pickups while Republicans managed to hold on in several hotly contested state races.

Control of the California legislature reverted to the Democrats, as Republicans lost eight seats in the Assembly to surrender the chamber they won in 1994. Democrats maintained control of the Senate.

The Illinois House is also back in the hands of Democrats, who picked up six seats, though the state Senate remains under GOP leadership.

Control of the legislature will also be split in Michigan after Democrats regained control in the House.

Other statehouse pickups for Democrats include the Senates in Connecticut, Maine, Tennessee, and Vermont. In Maine, voters also handed Democrats a majority in the House, which had been tied. In all four states, Democrats now control both chambers of the legislature.

Democrats, meanwhile, protected their majorities in the Minnesota House, the Missouri Senate, the Texas Senate, and the Wisconsin Senate--despite aggressive challenges from Republicans.

Republicans won control of the Florida House, granting the gop full control of that state's legislature.

The Iowa Senate went Republican, as did Washington state's, leaving Republicans dominant in both chambers of the Florida and Iowa statehouses.

The Republicans, meanwhile, added to their majorities in the Houses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They lost seats but managed to hold a slim majority in the North Carolina House.

In Indiana, the House, which had been controlled by Republicans, wound up in a 50-50 tie. Republicans still control the Senate in the Hoosier State.

And the Nevada Assembly, which had been locked in a 21-21 tie since 1994, went to the Democrats. Republicans control the Senate there.

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