Bush Education Boss Looks Ahead Secretary Lamar Alexander Says a Run for the White House in 1996 May Be on His Agenda

Article excerpt

ASSESSING his tenure as secretary of education, Lamar Alexander says he would "go right down the same tracks but with a bigger megaphone."

The former governor of Tennessee joined President Bush's team midterm and infused new energy into a lackluster department. He characterizes his efforts as a "crusade" to help Americans take charge of their schools. The centerpiece of that crusade was an unsuccessful plan to allow low- and middle-income parents to use tax dollars for private education.

Although that effort stalled, Secretary Alexander helped initiate a strategy for meeting the six national education goals drafted by Bush and the 50 governors in 1989. He promoted "break-the-mold" schools and began developing national standards.

Sitting in one of several rocking chairs in his office, Alexander spoke with the Monitor last week about his work as secretary of education and his future plans.

Word has it that we may see you running for president in 1996.

You might very well. I'm going home, which is what someone who loses in an election ought to do.... I'm going to practice law, which is what I did 15 years ago before I ran for governor. I'm going to write a book about what I've learned. And then I'm going to help the Republican Party get back on track so that it can win elections in 1994 and 1996. And I may very well run for the presidency myself in 1996.

Why would you want to be president?

The reason anyone ought to run for president is to help the country understand itself and to realize its potential. I've been to 100-plus communities in the last 18 months, California 20 times. And I've got a picture of this country that I didn't have before. The country is filled with anxious people who would like some help understanding what's going on and what we ought to do.... Our party - the Republican Party - has been talking in the language of 1964 or 1980 and not in the language of the '90s. Parties, when they do that, get ushered out to refresh themselves, which is what's happened to us.

Can you give us a preview of the book you will write?

I'm still thinking about that. Education books have a way of turning quickly boring even though education is the national worry, and it's the solution to most of the things that are on the front pages today.... I think the theme of it will be what I've learned about the country when I've gone into the schools because the schools are almost a perfect thermometer of what a community is like at that moment. And ... the schools give a good picture of what America will be like in the year 2000. …