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Riley's Fate in Clinton's Second Term Up in the Air

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Washington

Less than 24 hours after President Clinton won a second term, education groups sent a note of congratulations that included a request: Keep Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in his job.

"He has both an expert's understanding of education policy and a personable and approachable style that make him uniquely qualified for this position," said the letter from the American Council on Education, a higher education umbrella group, and five other groups representing colleges. "He has earned the respect and trust of educators and Capitol Hill policymakers alike."

But as of last week, they still didn't know what will come of their request.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Riley met last Thursday to discuss the secretary's role--if any--in the president's second term, according to Rick Miller, Mr. Riley's press secretary. Any results of that discussion are not yet known, Mr. Miller said.

And with Mr. Clinton headed for an extended vacation followed by an overseas trade mission, it may be a while before observers wanting a peek at Mr. Clinton's second-term Cabinet lineup know how or even if Mr. Riley fits in. Mr. Miller said it would probably be early next month before a decision was announced.

Throughout the past year, Mr. Riley has declined to say whether he would stay for a second term, but many Washington insiders predicted he would return home to his family's law practice in South Carolina.

Shortly after the election, Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said the odds were "very, very high" that Mr. Riley would stay in his job.

Rumor Mill Runs

But prognosticators and analysts here were quick to feed the rumor mills, tossing out names for education secretary that tossed out Mr. Riley as well.

  • Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, now the president of Drew University, could be named to fulfill Mr. Clinton's hope of including Republicans in his Cabinet.

Mr. Kean was also mentioned in post-election speculation about the education secretary's job before Mr. Riley was named four years ago. But Mr. Kean has not been contacted this year and would not pursue the post as long as Mr. Riley remains in it, Jeff Cromarty, a spokesman for Drew University, said last week.

  • Gov. Gaston Caperton of West Virginia was in Little Rock with Mr. Clinton on election night, but explained that it was part of his job as the chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association. He and Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana are the only two-term Democratic governors who will be out of a job next year. An aide to Mr. Caperton said he has not been interviewed for the job, though his name has surfaced in several reports.

"It's pure speculation at this point," said Carolyn Curry, Mr. Capterton's spokeswoman. "He has not been approached in any official capacity."

  • Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, another Democrat, is not in contact with the White House, though The Wall Street Journal listed him as a potential secretary of education.

"He doesn't anticipate any offer forthcoming," said Jim Carpenter, Mr. Romer's spokesman. Even if asked, Mr. Romer, who has two years left in his third term, may not be interested.

"Being the senior Democratic governor in the country allows him to make a difference on issues he cares about a lot, education chief among them," Mr. Carpenter added.

Riley Gets Respect

In Mr. Clinton's first term, the low-key Mr. Riley has won almost universal praise for the job he's done heading the Department of Education.

"Even people who don't agree with him find him a person they can trust," said Michael R. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "If he does leave, he'll leave a big gap that's not going to be filled easily."

In particular, Mr. Riley has been adept at working with Congress. In the first two years of Mr. Clinton's term, he headed the administration's effort to pass several new initiatives and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Despite long arguments over some programs, such as the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the direct-loan program for college students, the proposals passed with bipartisan support.

For the past two years, Mr. Riley has faced a Republican-controlled Congress whose leaders proposed eliminating his department and slashing spending on its programs. Even those who disagree with the administration's positions came to respect Mr. Riley for his efforts to find compromises that people with diverse political agendas could accept, Republicans say.

Mr. Riley also has been an important adviser to the president. In 1992, he headed the effort to fill subcabinet positions as part of the administration's transition team. And Mr. Clinton counts him as a trusted voice on the overall political landscape. Those connections have led to speculation that if Mr. Riley stays in Washington, he may take another post in the Cabinet or at the White House.

Mr. Riley has built his reputation in Washington around a belief in finding "common ground." For example, he led the effort to bring together religious conservatives, school officials, and liberal groups that tried to calm disputes over the role of religion in schools.

If Mr. Riley stays, his roster of assistant secretaries may not change much.

Sharon Porter Robinson, the assistant secretary for research, announced her resignation two days after the election, but no other top officials are planning to leave, Mr. Smith said last week.

That may change if a new secretary wants to hire a new team.

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