Election Season Offers Voters a Choice Between Old, New Education Candidates, Platforms
Castle Could Face Another Battle If He's Re-Elected
Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., faces two important elections this year: the first, to retain his seat as Delaware's sole House representative, and the second, possibly, to capture the helm of the House subcommittee that addresses K-12 education issues.
Mr. Castle, a moderate Republican and two-term Delaware governor first elected to Congress in 1992, is expected to easily defeat his Democratic challenger, Dennis E. Williams, in the Nov. 3 election. Mr. Castle is focusing on promoting after-school programs, public school choice and charter schools, and higher education.
In an interview, Mr. Williams, an accountant from Wilmington, said he plans to promote the Democratic education agenda, including federal funding to hire new teachers and help pay interest on school construction bonds.
He also criticized Mr. Castle's vote in favor of a voucher program for District of Columbia students from poor families.
All signs, though, are that Mr. Castle will win next week and that the GOP will retain its House majority. If both come to pass, Mr. Castle may face a tough race to ascend to the chairmanship of the Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee.
The panel will be a crucial player when Congress begins overhauling the vast Elementary and Secondary Education Act next spring.
Although Mr. Castle is the next in line in seniority to replace retiring Rep. Frank Riggs of California, Rep. Mark E. Souder, a more conservative Republican from Indiana, may also be a candidate for the subcommittee's top position. House leaders will choose a new chairman this winter.
Mr. Souder downplayed that speculation recently. "I've been very active on that committee--I presume I might be one of the persons considered" for the chairmanship, he said. "But that will be a decision made by the leadership."
Although the 980,000-member American Federation of Teachers declined to give either Mr. Castle or Mr. Williams its nod in the race for Delaware's sole seat in the House, Mr. Castle won the endorsement of the 2.4 million-member National Education Association.
Mary Elizabeth Teasley, the government-relations director for the NEA, described Mr. Castle's voting record as "mediocre," but she argued that he would be a good choice for the chairmanship. "His heart and mind are in the right place when it comes to early-childhood and children's issues," she said.
--Joetta L. Sack
Challenger Picks Up Union Support
Rep. Anne M. Northup, R-Ky., is a former teacher, but her Democratic challenger is hoping to give the lesson in wooing the education vote.
Chris Gorman, a former state attorney general from Louisville, has crisscrossed the 3rd Congressional District in northwestern Kentucky, selling a Clintonesque education platform: modernized classrooms, national standardized testing, hiring 100,000 new teachers, and federal funding to reduce class sizes to 18 children per classroom.
It is that platform that has won Mr. Gorman endorsements from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, said Maura Dougherty, his campaign press secretary.
Ms. Northup, who won her seat two years ago by less than a percentage point, is leading Mr. Gorman by 7 percentage points this time around, according to the latest Bluegrass State Poll from The Courier-Journal of Louisville. The poll has a 4.5-point margin of error, which means the race could be a dead heat or that Ms. Northup could have a double-digit lead.
If the incumbent wins on Nov. 3, her stock in Congress could rise, as the GOP leadership is looking to put key women on the powerful Judiciary Committee. She already serves on the House appropriations subcommittee on education and the workforce.
Mr. Gorman is making health care and education the center of his campaign, and he is calling for spending boosts in early-childhood programs such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program and Head Start.
But Rep. Northup is touting education initiatives of her own. In February, she teamed with Rep. Carrie P. Meek, D-Fla., to start the House Reading Caucus. "If we're going to pass literacy bills," Ms. Northup has said, "they ought to reflect the science."
Owens Expects Easy Victory
Rep. Major R. Owens, a Democrat from New York City, is in the eye of a storm. Comfortably unbeatable in his eighth term in the House, the 11th District congressman's neighbors have faced redistricting woes and hard-won primaries.
In the 10th Congressional District, for instance, Rep. Edolphus Towns fended off a strong Democratic primary challenger backed by former New York Mayor David N. Dinkins. And Democratic Reps. Eliot L. Engel, in the 17th District, and Nydia M. Vel zquez, in the 12th District, still worry how redistricting will affect their election margins.
But Mr. Owens, who represents mainly the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, had none of those worries.
No one opposed him in the primary, and his Republican challenger, David Greene, has mostly neither been seen nor heard. In fact, neither the local GOP headquarters nor the National Republican Congressional Committee can provide a direct phone number for Mr. Greene's campaign headquarters.
Mr. Owens, a former librarian, is a longtime member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. In fact, he joined the committee the same year he joined Congress, 1983.
He has traditionally voted the straight Democratic line on key committee votes
This year, his campaign seems to be taking the race in stride. His re-election headquarters phone rings and rings without an answer.
His last time out two years ago, Mr. Owens trounced his opponent by winning 92 percent of the vote. He has been endorsed by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
News accounts and federal election filings simply list Mr. Greene as a Republican challenger. Not much else could be learned about him.
A message sent to the campaign through Kings County Republican leader Anthony Caccamo was not answered as of press time.
Two Views on Federal Funding
Whenever a Republican raised the idea of block-granting money for federal education programs over the past two years, freshman Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., rallied the opposition.
Several times, he has collected almost 200 Democrats' signatures on petitions and called news conferences to decry GOP plans to merge school programs into one grant with few strings attached.
Details of arcane policy may not resonate with the voters of his 6th Congressional District, which stretches from the northern outskirts of Boston to the Maine border. But he hopes his advocacy will send a message that he is fighting to preserve a federal commitment to schools. "What people understand is that John Tierney's priority is to give tools to public schools," David Williams, the congressman's press secretary, said. Mr. Tierney was suffering from laryngitis last week and canceled a scheduled telephone interview.
To his opponent, the Democrat's block-grant opposition is a sign that the Salem, Mass., lawyer is a "knee-jerk liberal."
"Some programs should be block-granted and some should not," said former Rep. Peter G. Torkildsen, who held the seat for two terms. Title I and Head Start should not be block-granted, he added.
The two candidates are debating education and other issues for the third consecutive election season. Mr. Torkildsen, a former state legislator and labor commissioner, beat Mr. Tierney in 1994 by 7,400 votes. Mr. Tierney won the 1996 rematch by 372 votes.
Besides bragging that he halted block grants, Mr. Tierney is claiming he helped craft a popular program that gives schools federal funds to pay for comprehensive school reform programs.
Mr. Torkildsen, on the other hand, is promoting traditional GOP stands, including tuition tax credits for parents of private school students.
--David J. Hoff
Gregg Has Long-Shot Opponent
When the GOP-controlled Congress began writing its annual spending bill last year using a tight balanced-budget framework, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., made an unusual request for education: Spend more. Lots more.
Specifically, Mr. Gregg wanted an unprecedented $9.3 billion increase over six years for special education state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"We should fund our existing obligations to states before embarking on costly new programs," Sen. Gregg said at a news conference last February.
"Fully funding special education programs would free up money for local school districts," he said. ("GOP Puts Priority on Raising IDEA Funding," May 20, 1998.)
Now, more Republicans are humming his tune. They're promoting IDEA funding as a way to help districts with what they see as an expensive unfunded mandate. The move, they hope, would release more local money for other education expenses, such as school construction.
Districts in New Hampshire receive little special education funding from the state, making federal dollars even more precious, said Mr. Gregg, who served as New Hampshire's governor from 1989 to 1993.
His Democratic opponent, George Condodemetraky, is making education the centerpiece of his long-shot campaign.
He, too, wants to spend more federal money on special education, as well as school construction, bilingual and immigrant education, and Pell Grants and other higher education aid. Mr. Condodemetraky, an engineer and businessman, also wants parents to support, not condemn, teachers.
"We must avoid the temptation of making teachers scapegoats for our education woes," he wrote recently in a campaign biography. "Too many parents expect teachers to fill the role of babysitters rather than educators."
--Joetta L. Sack
Moseley-Braun in Uphill Battle
Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, to paraphrase a country song, was for school construction when school construction wasn't cool.
The Democrat from Illinois championed the issue shortly after she was elected in 1992. In her fight for federal funds to help needy districts pay interest on bond issues, she showcased dilapidated schools in Chicago. She sponsored legislation that allotted $100 million in such aid in 1994, but the new Republican-controlled Congress rescinded the funding in 1995. Now that President Clinton has adopted the school construction cause (albeit unsuccessfully in this year's budget), Ms. Moseley-Braun has become the president's strongest voice on the issue in the Senate.
But Mr. Clinton may have to look for a new lobbyist next year. Polls have shown Ms. Moseley-Braun running as much as 15 points behind her Republican opponent, Peter G. Fitzgerald, a wealthy businessman, lawyer, and state senator. Since her election as the first African-American woman in the Senate, she has been dogged by personal and political controversies; analysts have pegged her as one of the most vulnerable Democrats this election season.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who has repeatedly attacked her record as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, advocates smaller government and lower taxes. He has promoted charter schools and home schooling initiatives as strategies to advance his goal of more local control in education.
Ms. Moseley-Braun recently admitted she has made mistakes that overshadowed her stand on subjects such as education. In a recent television campaign advertisement shown in Illinois, she says: "I know I've made mistakes and disappointed some people, but I want you to know that I've always tried to do what's best for Illinois."
Despite her troubles, Ms. Moseley-Braun has been endorsed by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
--Joetta L. Sack
Race Turns on Sharp Contrasts
When she's in line at her neighborhood supermarket, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says she often turns to the person behind her and asks, "Have you called your legislator and reminded them to fund education adequately?"
Ms. Murray, the only member of both the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that handles education spending, faces a tough re-election battle this Nov. 3, but she is expected to edge out her opponent, Rep. Linda Smith.
Ms. Smith, a conservative Republican from Hazel Dell, Wash., was first elected to Congress in 1994. A tax consultant and former state lawmaker, she is well-known in the House for promoting fiscal thriftiness and campaign-finance reform.
By contrast, Ms. Murray, the incumbent from Seattle, is often named as one of the most liberal members of Congress by conservative and watchdog groups. She also has emerged as a fervent advocate of increased education spending and of President Clinton's education agenda, particularly his proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce class sizes. Ms. Murray has picked up the endorsement of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers affiliates in Washington state, and she was recently honored by the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups that lobbies for federal school aid. She told the group that she and her identical twin and their five other siblings learned the importance of an education when they were growing up in an impoverished, small-town household with a disabled father and working mother. Eventually, all seven children graduated from college.
"We didn't have any money, but we had neighbors, friends, family, and a country that believed in helping every child get an education," she said.
--Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 18, Issue 9, Pages 26-27