3 Senators With Key Ties to Education Win Handily

By Mark Pitsch — November 14, 1990 3 min read

WASHINGTON--Three Democratic senators who have played major roles on education legislation were re-elected last week after easily turning back challenges from Republican House members.

The victories scored by Tom Harkin of Iowa, Paul Simon of Illinois, and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island were in line with a year in which all but one of the 32 senators seeking re-election--and more than 96 percent of the 406 House members running again--were endorsed by the voters.

Mr. Simon overwhelmed Lynn Martin by almost a 2-to-1 margin, while Mr. Pell handily defeated Claudine Schneider. Mr. Harkin had a somewhat closer race against Tom Tauke, but the incumbent still finished with a relatively comfortable margin of 8 percentage points.

The outcome was a significant setback for the Republicans, who earlier in the year had seen the three incumbents as potentially vulnerable.

Mr. Harkin is chairman of the subcommittee that sets funding levels for education programs; Mr. Simon is expected to play a key role during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; and Mr. Pell is known, among other things, for legislation creating the student-aid program that now bears his name.

Voters also re-elected all other senators and representatives who hold key seats on education-related authorizing and appropriations panels.

They are Representatives William H. Natcher, Democrat of Kenand chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on education; Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Massachusetts, the ranking member on Mr. Natcher’s subcommittee; William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, who is slated to become chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee in January; and Bill Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania, the ranking member on Education and Labor.

Also re-elected was Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

One House member who went down to defeat, however, was Peter Smith, Republican of Vermont. Admirers said that Mr. Smith, who was only in his first term, had already managed to display a keen interest in federal education programs.

State affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers endorsed and worked on behalf of Mr. Smith’s opponent, Bernard Sanders, a grass-roots socialist and former mayor of Burlington who ran as an independent.

Caught between its state affiliate’s endorsement and its close ties to Mr. Smith, the national NEA declined to endorse a candidate in the race. The national AFT followed its local affiliate, but did not donate to Mr. Sanders’ campaign.

Representatives of both national organizations said last week that they looked forward to working with Mr. Sanders, who plans to seek admittance to the House Democratic Caucus.

Political observers last week were already likening Mr. Sanders to the only successful Senate challenger, Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota. Running an underfunded, populist campaign that touted the value of education, Mr. Wellstone pulled off an upset victory against Rudy Boschwitz, a two-term Republican. Mr. Wellstone had the endorsement of both the NEA and the AFT

Education lobbyists here said they were pleased with the results of last week’s elections, especially in light of the precarious positions of some of the key senators only a few weeks earlier.

Michael D. Edwards, manager of Congressional relations for the NEA, said the election results should give lawmakers a “stronger sense that education is not only good policy, but good politics.”

Rachelle Horowitz, political director of the AFT, agreed with Mr. Edwards on the role of education issues in the election. But she said the re-election victory of Senator Jesse Helms, the Republican from North Carolina who has frequentlyred with education groups and opposed federal education funding, indicated that the issue did not play strongly all across the nation.

The election results are not expected to shake up the rank-and-file of the appropriations and authorization committees to any great extent. Mr. Tauke and Mr. Smith--as well as Representative Tommy Robinson, Republican of Arkansas, who lost a primary bid for governor--will have to be replaced on Education and Labor, however.

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as 3 Senators With Key Ties to Education Win Handily