Education Speeches Cast Spotlight on Potential Dole Running Mates

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As he unveiled his education agenda, Bob Dole was joined by two old hands on the issue--William J. Bennett and Lamar Alexander--as well as three Republican governors known for conservative school reforms.

The group not only offered a glimpse of the influences on Mr. Dole's education ideas. It also showcased several of the most talked-about contenders to be his running mate.

Mr. Bennett, a former education secretary under President Reagan and an outspoken conservative pundit, has emerged as a potential vice-presidential nominee.

During the primary season, Mr. Bennett served as chairman of Mr. Alexander's campaign. He had harsh words for Mr. Dole, suggesting that he had neither the charisma nor the leadership qualities to challenge President Clinton in a general election.

Mr. Bennett declined to be interviewed for this story. But he embraced Mr. Dole's education plans in interviews after the candidate's recent swing through the Midwest. And he was with Mr. Dole last week in Los Angeles as the candidate delivered another speech criticizing the entertainment industry, a recent target of Mr. Bennett's.

In each state where he delivered his education message last month, Mr. Dole shared the stage with a Republican governor also promoted as a potential running mate.

In Wisconsin, that meant Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, who launched a private-school-voucher program in Milwaukee and who wants it to include religious schools.

Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio is also a proponent of the idea, having signed legislation that created a voucher program due to start this fall in the Cleveland schools.

And in Michigan, Mr. Dole stood alongside Gov. John Engler, an early and vocal backer of charter schools who also boasts about his state's revamped school-finance system, passed under his watch in 1993.

Observers said Mr. Dole's policy advisers have scoured state school-reform strategies as they cobble a plan for this fall's campaign.

"States are the laboratories of democracy," said Tom Needles, Mr. Voinovich's education adviser. "Republican governors are very innovative in terms of public policy. Republican governors have been in frequent contact with Mr. Dole and the campaign staff on a number of issues, including education."

Alexander Backs Plan

And as Republicans unite behind Mr. Dole on the way to this month's national convention in San Diego, the former Kansas senator also got an endorsement from Mr. Alexander, a leading opponent in the GOP primaries and a former education secretary and governor.

As education secretary during the last two years of the Bush administration, Mr. Alexander initiated an ambitious school-reform agenda known as America 2000. Under the plan, communities voluntarily pledged to craft school-reform plans that would help them meet the national education goals.

He was also the architect of the proposed "GI Bill for Kids," a voucher program that President Bush introduced in September 1992 and that served as the model for Mr. Dole's voucher proposal.

As a two-term governor of Tennessee, Mr. Alexander made his reputation in part on school-reform issues, taking on teachers' unions on the issue of merit pay.

In an interview, he said he had discussed education issues with Mr. Dole as they campaigned during the primaries. In June, he had further discussions with the candidate and his campaign staff.

"He's a good listener, and my experience with him is that he listens well and takes advice," Mr. Alexander said of Mr. Dole.

Asked what kind of role he might play in the months before the November election, Mr. Alexander said he will "do whatever Bob Dole would like me to do."

Vol. 15, Issue 41

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