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Published in Print: March 15, 2000, as Election Notebook

Election Notebook

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Bush Taps Texas Educator for Victory Celebration

As Gov. George W. Bush of Texas celebrated his overwhelming victories in last week's Super Tuesday primaries, he shared the spotlight with a veteran educator.

Mr. Bush, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, asked Phyllis C. Hunter to introduce him before he made his remarks to supporters March 7 in Austin, Texas.

Ms. Hunter, a former teacher and principal who now works as a consultant, recently helped design a statewide reading-intervention program in Texas. She praised Mr. Bush's education policies and said that reading would become "the new civil right" in a Bush administration.

"Governor Bush will work hard to ensure that no child is left behind," she said in her introduction.

Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said the governor chose Ms. Hunter because he considers education a top priority.

Gov. Bush also got some welcome news on a school issue from the U.S. Supreme Court last week. In a rare action, the court granted a request from the state of Texas and Mr. Bush to allow the state's attorney general to participate in upcoming oral arguments over student prayers at high school football games.

The high court will hear arguments March 29 in the case, which involves prayers delivered over the public address system in the Santa Fe, Texas, school district. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, struck down the district's policy allowing students to vote on whether to have such prayers as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against a government establishment of religion.

The justices have been flooded with friend-of-the-court briefs from interest groups, school districts, politicians, and others over the case. The court generally welcomes such diverse viewpoints—on paper. But only rarely does it allow nonparties in a case—other than the U.S. solicitor general, if federal interests are at stake—to participate in oral arguments.

But the court on March 6 granted a motion that will allow Attorney General John Cornyn of Texas to take 10 minutes of the 30 minutes total allotted to the Santa Fe district, whose lawyers welcomed the move.

Gov. Bush has attached his name to the state's brief supporting student-led prayers at football games.

Seven other states joined Texas in its brief—Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The governors of those states did not attach their names to the brief. None of them is running for president, however.

Education, meanwhile, proved something of stumbling block for Sen. John McCain, Gov. Bush's main rival for the nomination, who suspended his struggling campaign last week. Earlier this month, Mr. McCain seemed at a loss for words when asked to describe his most important contribution to the issue during his 17 years in Congress.

"Probably in leading the effort in my—being involved in the effort in my state for reform in many areas, supporting various education programs, a member of the education committee in the House of Representatives years ago, and being part of those efforts as well," the Arizona Republican began.

He ended his answer by noting his involvement in efforts to support the Troops to Teachers program, aimed at encouraging retired military personnel to become educators.

The question came during a March 2 Republican debate in Los Angeles. Mr. McCain participated via satellite hook-up from St. Louis.

Mr. Bush wasted no time in capitalizing on the senator's garbled response. His campaign issued a press release the same day containing the text of Mr. McCain's reply under the headline, "McCain on Education: Huh?"

The governor also cited it in a radio advertisement that aired before the Super Tuesday balloting, in which he won all but four of the 13 GOP contests.

—Joetta L. Sack, Mark Walsh, & Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 19, Issue 27, Page 37

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