By Liz Murray Garrigan
Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander is trailing in the polls, governors across the country are embracing the undeclared presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and national media outlets are chastising Alexander for a perennial candidacy that takes the place of a full-time job.
But the Alexander team argues such early commentary and conventional wisdom about the former education secretary’s second run for the presidency is shortsighted. Alexander, trading in his former trademark plaid shirt for a dark gray suit and solid crimson tie at his presidential announcement Tuesday, may be better off, they say, than national media outlets are giving him credit for. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, for example, recently nominated Alexander for an “obsessive presidential candidates” award.
“They ignore the reality of a presidential election,” says Mark Tipps, national campaign manager for Alexander. “It begins in Iowa a year from now. ” Alexander’s national campaign chairman is former four-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and Alexander’s organization in the caucus state is considered to be outstanding. Bush, by comparison, has yet to organize in the early states, but he is also said to have the support of 12 of 31 Republican governors.
“What they also ignore is history,” Tipps says. Among Republicans in modern times, Alexander pointed out to a crowded group of supporters and national media during his announcement speech at the state Capitol this week, only Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president the first time he ran. “Some people say I’ve been working awfully hard to prepare for this job,” Alexander said. “I can assure you, if I could find an easier way, I would do it.”
Alexander characterized the race for the Republican presidential nomination as “wide open.” There is, he said, “no one whose turn it is.”
Taking a shot at the current administration by characterizing President Clinton as a poll-driven “wizard” and Vice President Al Gore as his “faithful assistant,” Alexander said the election will be about “the character of the nation and its institutions” and “about restoring respect for the presidency.”
As for Alexander’s status as a second-tier candidate, Tipps says, “Everyone wants to talk about Bush, but he has never run for the presidency before. Gov. Bush may be a lot of things, but he doesn’t strike me as an Ike Eisenhower.”
And as for the polls, Tipps says, “When you see them this far out, as [journalist] David Broder said this Sunday, they don’t mean diddly.”
Clearly working hard to cast himself as the education candidate, former Mayor Dick Fulton this week made his second education-related proposal in a week.
Addressing the Nashville Exchange Club, the mayoral candidate said that, if elected, he would transfer unspent money in the city’s annual operational budget to Metro schools by way of a “Nashville Education Savings Fund.” Last week, Fulton proposed doubling the number of slots Metro designates in alternative schools for disruptive and violent students.
Fulton’s latest proposal calls for earmarking 60 percent of any leftover money from the Metro departments at the end of the fiscal year for school improvements. The other 40 cents on the dollar, Fulton proposed, could be used by the city departments to train workers.
“One way department heads try to justify higher budgets is to prove they spent all the money in their budget the year before,” Fulton said. “This creates an incentive for city departments to spend all of their budget by the end of the fiscal year.”
Changing the process, he said, would mean “more money for education, a better trained Metro workforce, and a more efficient local government.”
If such a plan in Metro worked as well as a similar plan in Washington state during its first year, Nashville would save $10 million of its approximate $1 billion budget, Fulton said.
Fulton also proposed a character-education program for Metro schools, saying he believes there are six “pillars” of character that every student should be taughttrustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. “I’m not interested in having the schools take the place of instruction in morals and values, which should come primarily from parents, the extended family, our churches, synagogues, and temples. But these six pillars of character do have a place in our public schools.”
Fulton doesn’t have the market cornered on ideas for Metro schools or anything else, but so far, he’s winning the media war. The former mayor has assembled a full-time campaign staff and is making an effort to create news during his civic appearances. He’s made a point to issue news releases coinciding with those appearances. Meanwhile, his chief opponents, Vice Mayor Jay West and former state legislator Bill Purcell, are slower to propose would-be initiatives to advance their standing as candidates for the Aug. 5 mayoral contest. A fourth candidate, Metro schoolteacher Richard Frank, is expected to focus his campaign on education, but he is a political unknown who acknowledges that he won’t be able to spend as much time and money on the campaign as his better-known opponents.
Former Nashville Sounds owner Larry Schmittou has qualified to run for one of the city’s five at-large Metro Council seats this Aug. 5.
Schmittou, whose tenure as owner of the minor league baseball team was marked by bitter feelings between him and city officials who were unwilling to build a new baseball stadium, says he’s still interested in helping to create a better ballpark for Nashville.
He suggests a “public-private endeavor” to build an updated AAA stadium “like other cities have.”
To reach Liz, call 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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