Published Online: January 29, 1997

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Speechless

Nancy Keenan, Montana's veteran superintendent of public instruction, was silenced this month by Republican lawmakers who refused to let her deliver her annual State of Education Address to the legislature.

The snub was explained by legislative leaders as an effort to broaden the voices that lawmakers hear. They said that instead of Ms. Keenan, a Democrat, they would like to invite a teacher or student to deliver a speech.

"We feel like we hear too much from people in government every day," said House Speaker John Mercer. Senate President Gary Aklestad said the new approach was a way to increase citizen participation in Montana government.

Ms. Keenan, however, could not see the decision as anything other than a blatant political slight.

"The tone of both Speaker Mercer and President Aklestad has been around open dialogue, hearing all points of view, and working together," Ms. Keenan told reporters. "If that's the leadership at the helm, it's disappointing."

Whether as an olive branch or a further insult, Mr. Aklestad is now accepting comments from around the state on who should be the education spokesperson. He said he would gladly let Ms. Keenan deliver the introduction for the winner of the lawmakers' sweepstakes.

Switching

Republicans claimed a majority on the Alabama state school board this month when Bradley Byrne left the Democratic Party and joined the gop. His move, which follows a similar switch by another board member last year, gives the GOP a 5-4 edge on the panel.

In announcing his conversion, Mr. Byrne, a lawyer, said he is pleased that his conservative credentials are cause for Republicans' celebration.

"I believe I can continue to exercise conservative judgment, using my common sense and my conscience and do so in a way that's completely in keeping with the Republican Party," he said at a news conference in Mobile.

He criticized the remaining Democrats for failing to act on his policy suggestions.

"What I'm looking for, and what I think I've found," he explained, "is a party that just doesn't talk the talk, but walks the walk."

--LONNIE HARP

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