State Journal: Far-right challenge; Advice to chiefs

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At a recent meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers, the superintendents who had won re-election this month were asked to talk about their campaign experiences.

One of the more dramatic tales was provided by Wayne G. Sanstead of North Dakota, who recounted how he faced a right-wing extremist.

The incumbent's challenger was Len Martin, who is associated with several far-right groups, including Aryan Nation and the Posse Comitatus. Through the Posse, Mr. Martin reportedly has had personal ties to Gordon Kahl, who killed two U.S. marshals during a 1983 shoot-out and was gunned down soon after, and Rubin Larson, a former Grand Forks council member who has been charged with shooting a judge in court.

Mr. Martin criticized "state control'' of schools and called America 2000 "anti-family, anti-religion, and anti-American.''

A publication distributed by Mr. Martin depicted Mr. Sanstead as a horned, hoofed devil, with the caption, "Mr. America 2000 says we want to teach your children godless values.''

Mr. Sanstead took the accusations in stride. "The caricature has a pretty good looking physique--better than mine,'' he said in an interview.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of violence--including allegations that Posse members loosened the wheels on a judge's car--spurred the schools chief to have his own car inspected.

While he easily defeated the challenger, Mr. Sanstead said he was disturbed to learn that others at the C.C.S.S.O. meeting also perceived a growing number of hate groups in their states. "This is not some philosophical argument,'' he said. "The challenge is there.''

A little later in the meeting, William L. Lepley of Iowa, who holds an appointive post, reminded his colleagues that even state chiefs who do not have to go before the voters have to work hard to keep their jobs.

Mr. Lepley recalled how, when he took office in 1988, his chances for a long tenure did not look promising, given that he had been picked by a Republican Governor but had to be confirmed by a Democratic legislature.

Mr. Lepley said he turned to other state superintendents for advice. He summarized their suggestions in three rules:

"Build your own constituency. Act like you're running for office even if you're not elected.''

"Build your press relations. Let the local papers know when you're coming, what you're going to do, and what you heard.''

"Remember that you are the single voice for the needs of the learner. Speak to that regardless of the political needs of the time.''--S.K.G. & H.D.

Vol. 12, Issue 12

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