State Journal: Largess; Seeking power

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No one can say that former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter doesn't remember his friends.

When he campaigned in 1986 for his first term as governor, Mr. McWherter aired an advertisement featuring Sylvan Park Elementary School students hugging him and climbing his 6-foot-5-inch, 275-pound frame.

Mr. McWherter, who was re-elected in 1990 and left office in 1994, has since given the Nashville school $11,000 in leftover campaign funds. A $10,000 donation five years ago helped buy equipment for a writing lab, and a $1,000 gift he made last month will expand it.

"The lab was a dream until we received the donation," said Carole Condiles, the principal of Sylvan Park, which has 425 students in kindergarten through 4th grade.

Mr. McWherter has donated $24,000 to education programs, mostly at the college level. He plans to use the $1.89 million left in his campaign war chest for a college-scholarship fund.

The former governor, who championed education issues during his tenure, did not attend college and had a "less than distinguished" K-12 career, said Jim Kennedy, Mr. McWherter's former chief of staff.

"More than most, he values and recognizes the need for a quality education," he added.

Seeking Power

Having lost much of his authority as North Carolina's state superintendent last year, Bob Etheridge is vying for a new seat of power--a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

When lawmakers gave the state school board control of the education department last year, Mr. Etheridge, a former state legislator and longtime player in North Carolina politics, lost his pass to the political arena.

"You still have the bully pulpit," he said, "but the policy role has been greatly reduced."

Mr. Etheridge, a Democrat, will challenge freshman Republican David Funderburk. Naturally, the two-term superintendent plans to spotlight education--and the incumbent's votes to cut federal education spending--in his campaign.

"I would hope that I can debate those issues on an even footing with anyone," he said.

--Robert C. Johnston & Drew Lindsay

Vol. 15, Issue 23

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