Bush, Gore Tap Advisers’ K-12 Savvy

By Joetta L. Sack — October 25, 2000 7 min read
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When George W. Bush called Sandy Kress to arrange a meeting about Texas education policy in 1993, the Dallas school board vice president was a bit surprised.

After all, Mr. Kress was a former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, and Mr. Bush, then a businessman, was contemplating a run for governor as a Republican.

But Mr. Bush was interested in Mr. Kress’ work on a task force that had studied school accountability, and, during their subsequent afternoon-long meeting, Mr. Bush asked substantive, detailed questions.

“He grilled me—it was like 100 questions,” Mr. Kress recalled. Although he still did not sign on to Mr. Bush’s 1994 campaign, the two kept working on education issues after the new governor took office.

Now, like his counterparts in the campaign of Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Kress is one of a handful of behind-the-scenes advisers whom the two major-party presidential candidates trust to shape their respective education platforms in a year when education is a top concern of voters.

Both Vice President Gore, the Democratic nominee, and Gov. Bush, the GOP hopeful, have some nationally known education advisers, including Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina for Mr. Gore, and Houston Superintendent Rod Paige for Mr. Bush. But it is academics and lesser-known government officials who have researched, debated, and fleshed out the details of both candidates’ extensive proposals.

“I think the fact that both Gore and Bush are turning to people not widely known but highly sensible is a good sign,” said Denis P. Doyle, a Washington-based education consultant and the vice chairman and chief academic officer of Schoolnet, a company that works to help schools set and reach high standards.

White House Ties

While both campaigns say they have drawn on a diverse group of experts and education practitioners, as well as people met along the campaign trail, both are mainly looking to advisers already well-versed in their respective candidates’ policies. Mr. Gore is relying heavily on Clinton administration officials, and Gov. Bush has rallied several Texans to help shape his school proposals.

Mr. Gore’s campaign has drawn extensively on former White House aides to President Clinton to draft its education plans. Many of the vice president’s proposals, such as federal funding for school construction and for hiring 100,000 new teachers to help reduce class sizes in the early grades, would continue initiatives that Mr. Clinton has championed.

Jonathon Schnur

The campaign has also turned to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, in which President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and Mr. Gore’s vice presidential running-mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, have all been actively involved.

The group—which made its name by challenging the Democratic Party’s liberal orthodoxy—has helped Mr. Gore craft stronger accountability and public-school-choice measures in his platform, said Andrew J. Rotherham, the education policy director for the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank.

In addition to the heavyweights such as Secretary Riley and Gov. Hunt, Mr. Gore has called on Jonathan H. Schnur, a former teacher who spent seven years working for the Clinton administration as the associate director of education policy at the White House and as Vice President Gore’s senior adviser on education.

Mr. Schnur is now involved in launching the New Leaders for New Schools project, which aims to recruit and train principals for urban schools. (“Nonprofit Group Aims To Groom New Breed of Leaders,” Sept. 20, 2000.)

Mr. Schnur, who worked on initiatives such as teacher recruitment and the Goals 2000 school improvement program while in Washington, said the vice president is known for calling together experts with a wide array of opinions on education reform. Mr. Gore, he added, always insists that his advisers back up their claims with research or practical knowledge.

“He’s tough and demanding, but respectful of the knowledge people bring to the table,” Mr. Schnur said.

Another top Gore adviser is William A. Galston, a professor in the school of public affairs at the University of Maryland.

Mr. Doyle called Mr. Galston “a tried-and-true Democrat” with innovative ideas. Mr. Galston served as President Clinton’s deputy assistant for domestic policy from 1992 to 1994, and worked on Mr. Gore’s losing presidential campaign in 1988.

Bruce Reed, another White House domestic-policy adviser, is also a close confidant to Mr. Gore. He has taken a leave from his post in the administration to work for the campaign full time.

And former White House aide Elaine C. Kamarck is advising the Gore campaign on education policy and other domestic matters. Ms. Kamarck was matched up with Mr. Kress of the Bush campaign for a campaign policy debate in New York City earlier this month.

Currently the director of Harvard University’s Visions of Governance for the 21st Century project, Ms. Kamarck was a senior policy adviser to Vice President Gore from 1993 to 1997, working with him to create and manage the National Performance Review. The review, better known as the “reinventing government” initiative, focused on streamlining the federal government and cutting bureaucracy.

Before joining the Clinton administration, she was also a senior fellow at the PPI, where she and Mr. Galston published many of the policy papers that later became the foundation for the centrist “New Democrat” philosophy that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have espoused.

Mr. Gore has also listened to the many teachers, parents, and local school officials he has met in his travels in recent months, according to Mr. Schnur. During the vice president’s “school days” visits on the campaign trail, Mr. Gore spends an entire day at a school meeting with administrators, teachers, parents, and others to solicit advice and opinions.

In the Bush ‘Kitchen’

One of the biggest differences in this year’s campaign agenda-setting for education, Washington observers say, is that Gov. Bush has a much more detailed education platform than previous Republican presidential candidates, and thus, more detail-oriented advisers.

“The difference is, I think [Mr. Bush is] calling on more of his own experience and people who have been there with him doing this,” said Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Council for Basic Education.

Sandy Kress

Mr. Cross—who served a stint as an assistant secretary of education during the administration of President George Bush, the governor’s father—advised former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas during his 1988 and 1996 presidential bids.

Margaret La Montagne is perhaps the Texas associate with the most experience working with Gov. Bush, having worked with him on education initiatives in the early 1990s and later serving as the political director of his 1994 gubernatorial campaign.

Now the senior adviser on education policy in the governor’s office in Texas, she is also a prominent voice within his campaign, according to aides.

Before joining Mr. Bush, she worked as an associate executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards.

Gov. Bush, Ms. La Montagne said, has consistently been passionate and goals-oriented about education. “He’s very focused on the bottom line, but he gives his staff a lot of latitude to work on the details,” she said.

“We’re pretty homegrown here,” added a campaign aide who did not want to be quoted by name. But the aide noted that Gov. Bush has also reached out to national experts in areas such as higher education and special education.

The aide said the governor also checks in occasionally with Nina Shokraii Rees, the senior education policy adviser at the Heritage Foundation and Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a former assistant secretary of education under President Reagan.

Mr. Bush can also chat with another prominent conservative voice on education: Lynne V. Cheney, the wife of his running-mate, former Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney.

Ms. Cheney, the chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under Presidents Reagan and Bush, stirred debate with her 1995 attack on proposed voluntary national standards for U.S. history. She is also a champion of phonics-based reading instruction and a critic of so-called “whole math.”

Ms. Cheney has had a role in the Bush campaign since long before her husband was tapped for the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket.

She, Ms. Rees, and Ms. La Montagne served on an 11-member panel that initially advised the governor on education policy when his campaign was getting under way. (“Bush Zeroes In on Accountability for Federal K-12 Funds,” Sept. 8, 1999.)

Finally, Mr. Kress, a lawyer who served on the Dallas school board from 1992 to 1996, is another resource for the Texas governor.

And, while he is involved in a number of Texas business and education groups today and once served as a deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Department of the Treasury during the Carter administration, Mr. Kress evaluates his role in the Bush campaign in down-to-earth terms.

“I consider myself to be a cook in the kitchen,” he said. “We know the ingredients he likes, and we know the way he likes it prepared, so we put together his recipes for school policies and education.”

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