New Nominee for Chief's Post Expected in California

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In the wake of a bitter partisan fight that led to the rejection of his first choice, Gov. Pete Wilson of California is expected this week to turn his attention to making a second nomination to fill the vacant post of superintendent of public instruction.

Sen. Marian Bergeson, a Republican and former teacher and president of the California School Boards Association, was defeated last month by the Democrat-majority Assembly on a vote that largely followed party lines.

After Ms. Bergeson was rejected on a 41-to-34 vote April 22, Assembly leaders scheduled another vote for last week. But the nomination never came up for reconsideration.

The outcome was seen as a bruising triumph for Speaker of the Assembly Willie L. Brown Jr., who had vigorously opposed her nomination. It touched off a wide range of political speculation about who will become the next leader of the nation's largest state school system.

Officials in the Republican Governor's office said last week that while Mr. Wilson was busy touring military sites with a federal base-closure commission, aides were collecting names and resumes of potential nominees.

A spokeswoman said Mr. Wilson does not intend for the job to go without a permanent replacement for long.

After the vote on Ms. Bergeson's nomination fell short, the Governor called it an "ugly political game.'' But observers said last week they expected Mr. Wilson to strike back.

'Rumors Are Abounding'

While a number of names were being mentioned as likely nominees, analysts were putting a higher premium on how each candidate would be received by Mr. Brown and Assembly Democrats.

The Speaker has pledged not to support any Republicans for the superintendency because voters had elected Bill Honig, an outspoken liberal Democrat, to the nominally nonpartisan position. The current vacancy occurred after Mr. Honig was convicted this year of felony conflict of interest in awarding state grants, in a case that itself was rife with charges of political motivation.

A prominent candidate for the nomination remains Sen. Rebecca Q. Morgan, a Republican with ties to the conservative wing of the G.O.P.

But observers said last week that Ms. Morgan's interest in seeking election to the office, which is up for a full four-year term next year, could be a liability.

A number of prominent political figures, including Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin, the chairman of the Assembly education committee, have been seen as possible contenders for the powerful post. But one widely expected candidate, Sen. Gary K. Hart, the chairman of the Senate education panel, announced last month that he would not run.

Observers said a more likely choice by Mr. Wilson would be Maureen DiMarco, a Democrat who currently serves as Cabinet secretary for education and children's issues. Lobbyists cautioned, however, that Ms. DiMarco has expressed an interest in keeping her present post, and that the Governor may be reluctant to push her nomination and then have to fight for a new Cabinet appointee.

Otherwise, education advocates have speculated that Mr. Wilson might choose an unconventional nominee that would handicap Mr. Brown's ability to rally opposition.

The long-shot names that have been floated, one observer said, range from local school superintendents to Condoleezza Rice, a Stanford University professor who served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Bush Administration.

"The rumors are abounding,'' said Kevin Gordon, the director of governmental relations for the California School Boards Association. "I don't doubt the Governor is looking at nonconventional types of nominees. He is not rushing through this.''

Education Groups Ponder Stand

Another key question is how education organizations will respond, given the strong stands many groups made over Ms. Bergeson's nomination.

The C.S.B.A., which has a policy of not making political endorsements, carried on a major behind-the-scenes campaign supporting Ms. Bergeson. But other groups, notably the powerful California Teachers Association, worked hard against her confirmation.

Education officials speculated that the next nominee for the position is not likely to be very different from Ms. Bergeson on education issues.

"A lot of people made too big a deal over someone with a reasonably good record, so for those groups to do anything but oppose another nominee would not be consistent,'' Mr. Gordon observed.

At the same time, public pressure to move beyond political bickering may make it difficult for education groups to mount an effective opposition campaign for a second time.

Others noted that legislative leaders may not so actively oppose future nominees, giving interest groups a way to recast their position. Indeed, the C.T.A.'s statement opposing Senator Bergeson read, in many ways, like an endorsement.

Vol. 12, Issue 32

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