Ballot Box: Former Education Secretaries Join Forces in Alexander Campaign

By Mark Pitsch — February 21, 1996 4 min read
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Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, a co-director of the conservative think tank Empower America, last week endorsed former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, its other co-director, for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination and signed on as national chairman of Mr. Alexander’s campaign.

“I know this man and I know his ideas,” Mr. Bennett said at a Milford, N.H., news conference, according to a news release from the Alexander campaign.

“Lamar Alexander is the real conservative in this race,” Mr. Bennett said. “He understands that the issue is power: less power in Washington and more power for churches, schools, communities, and individuals.”

“Bill Bennett is the country’s conservative conscience,” Mr. Alexander said. “He is the clearest signal of where I’m coming from ... This is an ideas campaign and Bill Bennett will be the prime minister of ideas.”

The endorsement followed Mr. Alexander’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, a strong showing Mr. Alexander was hoping to build on in this week’s New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Bennett’s ongoing crusade over what he considers to be the nation’s moral decline has endeared him to social and cultural conservatives, many of whom sought to persuade him to seek the presidency himself this year.

He had also discussed presidential possibilities with Gen. Colin L. Powell and consulted with publisher Malcolm S. “Steve” Forbes Jr., one of Mr. Alexander’s current rivals and a member of Empower America’s board of directors.

Ever wonder what a presidential visit to a school is like?

Kent Fischer, an education reporter for the Concord Monitor newspaper, wrote a sketch of President Clinton’s Feb. 2 visit to Walker Elementary School in Concord, N.H., that suggests a great deal of preparation and staging.

“If President Clinton’s visit to teacher Steve Rothenberg’s class was anything, it was a lesson in control. It was a lesson in how a message is conceived, developed, and scripted to appear spontaneous by political spin-meisters,” Mr. Fischer wrote.

“Like a Broadway play, every step, every cue, and every word spoken during the 40-minute stop at the school was orchestrated.”

The article noted that 17 pieces of tape on the floor of the sixth-grade classroom indicated where the president should stop, and “sloppily hand-written posters” were “rewritten in perfect penmanship on crisp new tag board.”

In addition, it said, students spent hours at the school the evening before the visit “getting instruction from Clinton aides on where they were to sit and the types of things they were to say.” Some children reportedly cried when campaign staff refused to let them go home.

A high school student told Mr. Fischer that aides edited a speech he had prepared for a different event, adding such phrases as “Thank you, Mr. Clinton, for increasing the educational opportunities for all children.”

White House officials could not be reached for comment.

While he came in third in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Alexander took first place among the Republican candidates in an Iowa vote earlier this month.

He garnered 26 percent of the GOP votes in the first-ever Iowa Student Mock Caucus. More than 41,000 students participated in the caucus on Feb. 8, four days before the state’s adults held theirs.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who won the real event, placed second in the student vote with 19 percent, and Mr. Forbes placed third with 13 percent.

In the real caucuses, commentator Patrick J. Buchanan took second place.

The Public Broadcasting Service is linking up 15 high school classrooms with 15 national political correspondents during the campaign season.

Once a month until June, students in journalism, English, social studies, and civics classes will correspond with the reporters through letters and electronic mail about campaign coverage and the 1996 presidential race in general.

All of the correspondence will be available on the PBS World Wide Web site, PBS ONLINE, which can be found on the Internet at

Among the reporters participating are Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Richard Berke of The New York Times, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, and Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal.

The program is part of a civic-education campaign called the Democracy Project.

Gary Bauer, the executive director of the Washington-based Family Research Council, suggests that voters consider presidential candidates’ stance on history curricula, as well as their public support for private schooling.

Mr. Bauer, who served as a White House domestic-policy adviser and the undersecretary of education in the Reagan administration, has published a book designed as a 1996 election guide. Our Hopes, Our Dreams: A Vision for America devotes 20-pages to education.

It lists as important points whether candidates support tuition tax credits or vouchers, classroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a religious-liberty amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “schools that teach American history without apology,” and the right of teachers to decline to join a union.

A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 1996 edition of Education Week as Former Education Secretaries Join Forces in Alexander Campaign


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