State Journal: Electoral politics; Surprise

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The Pride of Elected Officials Dies Hard in Mississippi.

For the second straight year, lawmakers killed a bill that would have required all of the state's local school superintendents to be appointed by their school boards by 2000.

Senators, it seems, can find a lot of good things to say about elected officials. They also don't take too kindly to arguments that elected superintendents focus on politics to the detriment of student achievement.

Despite repeated pleas by Sen. Ronnie Musgrove, the chairman of the Senate education committee, and support from Gov. Kirk Fordice, the bill was defeated, 31 to 17. More than a third of the state's superintendents are elected, a tradition that some senators argued insures local accountability.

The lawmakers did not buy Senator Musgrove's argument that appointed superintendents are more capable of sound reasoning and are generally more qualified.

Last year, the Senate backed a similar bill. It ran into problems and was killed, however, by the elected members of the House.


Gordon Smith, the new president of the Oregon Senate, stole the limelight at the legislature's recent opening session when he announced in his welcoming speech that he thought the state should create a trust fund for schools. The plan could eventually yield $300 million a year, he said.

But his idea fell mostly on shocked ears, as it caught his fellow Republicans in the House completely off guard and stole some thunder from Gov. John Kitzhaber, the newly elected Democrat who was preparing to give his inaugural address.

Under the Senate leader's plan, the state would sell off some assets, cancel part of a business-tax rebate, and harness lottery revenues to create a fund that would start yielding its interest to schools in about five years.

For his part, the Governor has proposed a ballot measure that would dedicate some lottery funds to the schools.

Many lawmakers, meanwhile, are altogether leery of steering lottery money away from such uses as county fairs and local efforts to recruit industry.

Senator Smith said the issue is emblematic of a change in leadership style.

"If we don't save some of it," he said, "all of this money will be squirreled away into backfilling other programs--for pensions, pay raises, and perks, and all manner of other spending."

--Lonnie Harp

Vol. 14, Issue 22

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