Congressional Contests Zero In On Education Themes

October 18, 2000 11 min read
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The following election profiles take a closer look at selected races for the Senate and the House where education is playing a prominent role this year.

Senate Races: Florida | Virginia | Washington
House of Representatives Races:
Colorado | Delaware | Missouri



Education a Core Issue in Race To Succeed Mack

Rep. Bill McCollum
Bill Nelson

In Florida’s tight race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Connie Mack, education is playing out as a core issue, with both major-party candidates making arguments that echo the Democratic-Republican divide in other congressional races.

Democrat Bill Nelson, who is Florida’s insurance commissioner and was a member of the U.S. House from 1979 to 1991, has sought to depict his opponent, Rep. Bill McCollum, as extreme in his views. Mr. Nelson points to the Republican’s votes in Congress in favor of education spending cuts, against such measures as the federal program to reduce class sizes, and against gun-control legislation.

During a debate last month, Mr. Nelson, 57, was quoted as chiding his opponent: “Your voting record in Congress, I think, shows you are consistently out of touch with most Floridians.” The Nelson campaign has also issued a “fact sheet” highlighting Mr. McCollum’s record on education.

Critiques of GOP votes on education spending, the class-size initiative, school construction, and other related matters have been featured in numerous Democratic campaigns this year. (“Political Ads Turn Spotlight on Education Issues,” Oct. 11, 2000.)

Rep. McCollum, 56, is currently finishing his 10th term in the House representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Orlando.

For his part, Mr. McCollum has focused on local control of schools, saying in a speech to the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that, while he recognizes the need for better teachers and smaller classes, “Washington does not know best. Education decisions should be made by local school boards, parents, and teachers, not Washington.”

Mr. McCollum’s pitch on the campaign trail has been that he believes in “better government,” while Mr. Nelson, he says, favors “bigger government.”

—Erik W. Robelen

Read more about Bill Nelson and his position on the major issues as he bids to become Senator from Florida.

Rep. Bill McCollum is currently finishing his 10th term in the House of Representatives. Read more about Mr. McCollum’s committee assignments and major legislative issues.



Two Former Governors Run on Education Records

Sen. Charles S. Robb

In Virginia, two of the state’s former governors are making education a priority issue in their tight race for the Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb, a Democratic governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986, has sought to depict his opponent, former Republican Gov. George Allen, as hostile to the needs of public education.

In his campaign, Sen. Robb, 61, now in his second term in the Senate, has highlighted his support for staples of the Democratic agenda in Congress, including money for class-size reduction and school construction. At the same time, he has endorsed a plan put forward by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut—the Democratic nominee for vice president—and other centrist Democrats that would consolidate federal education programs into five funding categories in exchange for tougher accountability and higher spending.

For his part, Mr. Allen, 48, has emphasized his role in promoting standards-based education reform while he was Virginia’s governor from 1994 to 1998. He has signaled that, if elected, the first bill he would introduce in the Senate would create a $1,000 “education opportunity” tax credit. He also has proposed an early-reading initiative and a public-private sector partnership to help with school construction and renovation costs.

The two candidates and their parties have aired numerous television advertisements on education issues this fall. (“Political Ads Turn Spotlight on Education Issues,” Oct. 11, 2000.)

But it was an ad placed by the state that raised eyebrows.

The ad, paid for with state lottery funds, promoted Virginia’s Standards of Learning, the standards-and-assessment program begun during Mr. Allen’s governorship.

With Mr. Allen proudly pointing to the standards initiative on the campaign trail, Democrats questioned whether the ad, which cost just over $1 million to produce and get on the air, was a proper use of lottery funding pegged for education.

Last week, the state lottery commission pulled the ad.

Joetta L. Sack & Erik W. Robelen

Virginia’s incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb, Democratic governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986, is locked in a tight race for the Senate against former Republican governor George Allen.



Closely Fought Contest Offers K-12 Dividing Lines

Sen. Siade Gorton

In Washington state, education issues offer some clear dividing lines between the two major candidates in a tight race for the Senate. But that may come as little surprise, given that incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton has positioned himself as a leader in his party on education policy. He is best-known for promoting controversial and so far unsuccessful plans to convert much federal K-12 program aid into block grants.

“The two candidates have diametrically opposed views [on education], and it’s very much a part of the campaign,” said David J. Olson, a political science professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The differences between Sen. Gorton, 72, and his Democratic challenger, high-tech executive and former U.S. Rep. Maria Cantwell, 42, are perhaps best illustrated by their contrasting positions on the federal program to reduce class sizes. The effort, which provides money to help hire an eventual 100,000 new teachers, is a top priority for President Clinton and for Washington state’s other senator, Democrat Patty Murray.

Ms. Cantwell, who served one term in the House, from 1993 to 1995, supports the class-size program, and she also backs plans to provide new federal aid to help modernize schools and raise teacher pay, said Mike Seely, a campaign spokesman. He noted Ms. Cantwell’s and Mr. Gorton’s “philosophical differences” over education.

As for the incumbent, Sen. Gorton argues that federal dollars should not be targeted to specific initiatives. Instead, he says, such funding should be more flexible, and he singles out the class-size program for criticism.

"[Sen. Gorton] agrees that we should invest more in our schools, but he thinks we need to let our schools decide how to spend it,” his campaign materials say. “The 100,000-teachers proposal sounds good in theory ... but, get this ... once you spread that money out over all the school districts in the country, a lot of school districts only get enough money to hire half a teacher.”

—Erik W. Robelen

Maria Cantwell’s campaign outlines her “Ideas for the Future.”

Sen. Gorton’s U.S. Senate site includes a page summarizing his positions and accomplishments on education.



Colo. Incumbent Faces Tight Re-Election Fight

Kenneth Toltz

The race between incumbent Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican, and Democrat Kenneth Toltz for the House seat from Colorado’s 6th Congressional District is getting close attention from both their parties. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees Mr. Tancredo as vulnerable to a challenge; at the same time, the Tancredo campaign is receiving a lot of GOP support.

“We’ll do what we need to do” to help his campaign, said Marit Babin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Dave Pearson, Mr. Tancredo’s campaign manager, said the first-term congressman is “squarely in line with the views of his constituency.” He added that, if Mr. Tancredo is re-elected, one of his priorities will be winning enough federal support to cover 40 percent of the cost of providing special education.

Mr. Tancredo, 56, taught middle-level history and civics and later, during the Reagan and Bush administrations, served as the director of the Education Department’s regional office in Denver. He now serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee, where his strong support of private school vouchers has made him unpopular with his state’s main teachers’ union.

“We have sort of been at odds with Representative Tancredo for a long time in a lot of ways,” said Deborah Fallin, a spokeswoman for the 32,000-member Colorado Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

Both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have endorsed Mr. Toltz, whom Ms. Fallin described as “very much pro-education.”

If elected, Mr. Toltz, a 42-year-old businessman who owns a chain of dry-cleaning shops, would like to set up a federal program that would forgive the student loans of anyone who committed to teaching for five years.

Likening that proposal to the GI Bill, Mr. Toltz said in an interview: “I think it is such a national priority that we need to send the same kind of message.”

—Michelle Galley

For more information see Rep. Tom Tancredo‘s Web site and read his ideas for education.

Read more about all the candidates running for the 6th district in Colorado, including Mr. Toltz, from the Democracy Network.



Subcommittee Chairman Castle Anticipates Easy Race

Rep. Michael N. Castle
Michael Miller

The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees K-12 issues—Rep. Michael N. Castle—is considered by many analysts to be a shoo-in for re-election.

Michael Miller, the Democratic challenger for Delaware’s only seat in the House, is a 31-year-old accountant who owns a lawn-service company. He could not be reached for comment, but says on his Web site that he supports “increasing funds for public education to create a safe, more stable, and effective learning environment.”

Mr. Castle, 61,is a moderate Republican finishing his fourth term in the House. He has won his previous re-election bids handily. Immediately before entering Congress, he served as Delaware’s governor for eight years.

This year, the chairman of the Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee has put education at the heart of his campaign, according to Elizabeth Brealy, a spokeswoman for Mr. Castle.

“He is campaigning on some of the achievements he has accomplished,” she said, citing his support of the Ed-Flex legislation that allows states more flexibility in using federal money, and his backing of legislation to improve teacher training.

He has also picked up the endorsement of the National Education Association. That sets Mr. Castle apart from most of his GOP colleagues, given the NEA’s heavy support for Democrats.

“We have endorsed him because he has supported many common-sense gun-safety proposals, school construction funds, and he has consistently opposed private school vouchers,” said Becky Fleischauer, a spokeswoman for the NEA.

One of Mr. Castle’s top priorities if he is re-elected will be streamlining the way research is conducted within the Department of Education by creating a new academy for education research, Ms. Brealy said. (“House Plan Would Create Research ‘Academy,’” Aug. 2, 2000)

She added that the Castle campaign is not expecting a close race. “We don’t treat it lightly, but he is in a safe seat,” she said.

—Michelle Galley

For more information see Rep. Michael Castle‘s Web site.



Democrat Hopes To Follow in Father’s Footsteps

Fresh from winning a highly contested Democratic primary race in August with 61 percent of the vote, William Lacy Clay Jr. appears primed for victory in the race to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.

Like father, like son.

Mr. Clay, 44, is the son of Rep. William L. Clay, who is retiring from the House after 32 years of service and is now the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The younger Mr. Clay, a Democratic state senator in Missouri, is running against Republican Z. Dwight Billingsley. Both men are making education a priority in the race.

Mr. Billingsley, 46, said in an interview that many schools in the congressional district—which includes parts of St. Louis—are failing, and that he supports using private school vouchers to help improve their performance. “Only competition will make our schools better,” he said.

The Republican, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996, is a principal investor with the Branford Gateway Investment Co. of St. Louis. He earned an undergraduate degree from Yale University and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. He said that the public schools he attended while growing up in St. Louis had prepared him for Yale and Harvard, but that “schools no longer have that capacity here.”

Mr. Clay has picked up the support of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. He backs the Democratic initiative for providing federal money to help schools hire 100,000 new teachers, supports charter schools, and opposes private school vouchers, according to Steven Engelhardt, the communications director for Mr. Clay’s campaign.

“The campaign is going terrifically,” Mr. Engelhardt added.

During his tenure as a state senator, Mr. Clay cosponsored a bill that “formed the framework” for the settlement of St. Louis’ 27-year-old desegregation lawsuit, Mr. Engelhardt said. The bill, passed in 1998, revised the 46,000-student St. Louis School district’s busing plan.

—Michelle Galley

Clay for Congress posts Mr. Clay’s position paper on education.


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