As the nation reflected on Ronald W. Reagan’s political legacy last week, one fellow Republican recalled his own thwarted opportunity to serve in the late president’s Department of Education 23 years ago, and noted how the behind-the- scenes views of White House advisers may have hurt his chances.
Christopher T. Cross, a prominent education consultant and a GOP congressional aide in the 1970s, earlier this year obtained internal memos from 1981 revealing that Reagan aides had cast doubt on his conservative credentials.
Mr. Cross had been recommended for the No. 2 post in the Department of Education—then the position of undersecretary—by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell. ("Reagan's Legacy: A Nation at Risk, Boost for Choice," this issue.) But Lyn Nofziger, a senior political aide to Mr. Reagan, wrote in a Feb. 12, 1981, memo to deputy White House personnel director Wayne Roberts that Mr. Cross "is a liberal Republican, and was not active in the Reagan campaign."
"With Bell as secretary, the White House needs its own man in the No. 2 slot," Mr. Nofziger added. "The need for a strong manager with Reagan ties and philosophy cannot be emphasized enough."
Mr. Cross obtained the memo and other documents through a Freedom of Information Act request he made in 2002 while visiting Mr. Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
"It was in some ways what I expected, and in some ways, it was laughable," said Mr. Cross last week, noting that he had helped consult Mr. Reagan’s advisers on education leading up to the 1980 campaign debates with President Jimmy Carter.
Still, Mr. Cross recalls his disappointment when White House questions about him surfaced in the media in 1981 and he was passed over for the department post. "It was a bit of a letdown, after having gone through that," he said.
In an e-mail to Education Week, Mr. Nofziger said he did not specifically recall his memo. But any administration, he argued, needs to "fill appointive positions with persons who share the president’s philosophy of government. To do less is to make it more difficult to govern."
Mr. Cross did finally make it to the department—as an assistant secretary under the first President Bush.
Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 35