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Among Vulnerable Lawmakers in Mid-Term Elections, Few Deal Much With Education

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 05, 2018 4 min read
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Admit it: When you think about politics these days, you’re often wondering whether Republicans will keep control of both the House and Senate after this year’s elections. It’s okay; we have the same thoughts. So we thought we’d try to find out which lawmakers who focus on K-12 might lose their jobs in November.

To do that, we used a pretty straightforward method. We looked at the members of the House and Senate education committees, and then compared it to the Cook Political Report’s recent analysis of House and Senate lawmakers who have the toughest reelection campaigns in 2018.

Here’s the gist: If you like how the current crop of lawmakers who deal a lot with education are handling their business, you’ll probably like what we found. It seems that most of them are likely to stick around. Of course, how important that is might depend on whether are big changes at the ballot box later this year.


Only new Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota is on the committee and in a race rated as a “toss up.” It’s not particularly surprising that she will likely have to work hard to keep her seat as a rookie lawmaker from a relatively “purple” state.

Further down the list, Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania are in seats “likely” to stay in the Democrats’ column. Both their states went for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, so there’s some cause concern among Democrats, but no one’s hitting the panic button just yet, it seems. Baldwin is an advocate for LGBT rights, while Casey is an advocate for people with disabilities and survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.

Lawmakers in “solid” seats for Democrats—those not considered competitive—include Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is also listed here; he’s an independent but caucuses with Democrats. Of those four, Kaine might have the most work to do to get re-elected.

Kaine has an interest in career and technical education issues, Murphy supports strong federal oversight when it comes to school accountability, and Warren voted against the Senate version of what became the Every Student Succeeds Act (she did vote for the final version of ESSA, however). Meanwhile, Sanders was no fan of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grants.

Looking for very vulnerable Republicans in 2018 who serve on the Senate education committee? You’re out of luck, because there aren’t any, at least according to Cook.

Bonus: We took a look at the Senate appropriations subcommittee that deals with education spending. Its chairman, Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, isn’t up for reelection until 2022. The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, isn’t up again until 2020, although health concerns may lead him to leave the Senate before then.


By definition, there are more House members, and more House members on the chamber’s education committee. So perhaps there are more vulnerable lawmakers there come November than in the Senate?

Not really. The only House lawmaker in a toss-up race who’s also on the education committee is Republican Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota. Further down the list, in a “lean Republican” seat, is Republican Rep. Karen Handel of Georgia.

Lewis has supported an increase to federal career and technical education grants. Handel has backed a bill to allow 529 college savings accounts to be used for homeschooling, a proposal that nearly made it into the GOP’s overhaul of the tax code.

Both Handel and Lewis are in their first terms in Congress. (Handel won a 2017 special election to take over for former GOP Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who left his seat to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, a job Price no longer holds.)

Meanwhile, committee member Michigan GOP Rep. Tim Walberg is in a seat “likely” to stay Republican.

Bonus: The chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee dealing with education, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, is in a safe seat.

Of course, education in Congress could really get shaken up if the Democrats take over the House or Senate after the elections, regardless of whether those vulnerable lawmakers we highlighted win or lose in November. In those scenarios, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state or Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrats on the Senate and House education committees respectively, would get control of their committee gavels. If Democrats do take one or both chambers, expect either or both of them to spend a lot of time exercising aggressive oversight on how the Trump administration handles civil rights, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and more.

Photo: Vice President Mike Pence, right, administers the Senate oath of office during a mock swearing in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber to Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., left, with her husband Archie Smith, center, on Jan. 3 in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

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