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The line forms to the right – presidential election prospects for black higher education

As the curtain rises on the 1996 presidential campaign, a four-year old scenario appears to be repeating itself:

A Southern governor emerges from a pack of contenders to gain momentum in the early presidential primary election campaigns only to be confronted by a populist candidate who has captured a critical wing of the party.

But the key player in the 1996 presidential sweepstakes so far is not former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D), storming through a field of contenders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, en route to the Democratic party’s presidential nomination.

This time, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander (R) is being pitted against news commentator and conservative speechwriter Patrick J. Buchanan in the early stages of the quest for the Republican presidential nomination.

After two state caucuses and the New Hampshire presidential primary election, the two Republicans are the chief challengers to Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS).

Dole, who began the GOP race as the front-runner, has seen his candidacy’s profile often overshadowed in the early going, much as the candidacy of former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-MA) was overshadowed during the primary campaigns four years ago.

Alexander’s momentum, as a former Education Secretary who advocates the demise of the department, is grabbing the attention of Black political scientists who predict dire straits for Blacks in higher education if the White House changes hands.

Implications of a Change

The difference between the 1992 and 1996 contests centers around the fact that the current drama is being played out under the Republican, not the Democratic, party banner.

According to Black political scholars, that difference underscores what’s at stake for Blacks in higher education in the early stages of the drive to select the final presidential administration to be elected in this century.

“If there is a change of party in the White House, the implications of that change would be enormous,” said Milton Morris, vice president for research at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, DC, think tank.

He was referring to republican policies of recent years that have threatened many of the programs and policies that have served minorities in higher education.

According to Morris and other Black political thinkers sampled recently by Black Issues In Higher Education recently, the outcome of the 1996 presidential election could threaten the future of affirmative action, student loans and a score of other programs or policies that are federally-funded or sanctioned and have enhanced Black access or progress in higher education.

“The big thing is what they plan to do to the education budget. If they win the White House, they will cut programs on which African Americans are dependent,” says Dr. Ronald Walters, Howard University political science department chairman.

Solemn Words

In contrast to the Clinton administration’s efforts to use the Department of Education funds as the fulcrum to make post-secondary education more accessible to all Americans, the major GOP contenders for the White House have targeted the Department of Education for extinction.

That group includes Lamar Alexander, former Tennessee governor and one-time secretary of education.

“On January 26, I testified before the U.S. Congress and argued that it should take each activity currently housed in the Department of Education and do one of three things with it,” he says in his campaign position papers.

“(a) Send it home to states and communities; (b) entrust it to another federal agency; or (c) terminate it and return the money to the taxpayers,” he says.

In announcing his candidacy, Buchanan also promised to kill off ED.

“You have my solemn word I will shut down the U.S. Department of Education, and parental rights will prevail in our public schools again,” he said.

Dole’s record of opposition to ED dates from 1979 when he voted against the legislation to, create the cabinet agency. He has called for the federal education programs to be farmed out to other agencies.

The danger of that approach is that it would rob Blacks of a central focal point for education programs, policies and funds, says Dr. Robert Stark, a Northeastern Illinois University Black political scientist.

“There’s no way we can get our share of the pie without a central focal point to pitch our demands to. Without the Department of Education you would spend days trying to find where things are,” Stark says.

Of even greater concern to Morris is the fate of the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“There has been a bipartisan commitment to supporting HBCUs over the years, but that bipartisanship occurred before the present Republican era,” Morris says.

In a Republican White House, he says, “I doubt that kind of initiative would survive. And I certainly don’t see a great deal of enthusiasm for the kind of financial support that has been involved so far.

“I just don’t see the kind of sympathetic attitude toward Black higher education,” he says of the legislative and policy climate set by the Republican-controlled Congress since the 1994 elections.

With the emphasis on what he calls the “the drumbeat of reduced spending,” he says, the Republican candidates are “less inclined to invest in education of any sort.

“I just see a harder, colder, more shortsighted character to Republican thinking these days,” he says.

Stark counts himself among the Black political scholars who say that they have a role now to explain — and warn — Black voters about the implications of the current presidential climate.

“I think Pat Buchanan is the right-wing version of Jesse Jackson for the 90s. He’s taken a populist sentiment and wrapped it around a right-wing, conservative message,” he says.

He is no more sanguine about the prospects of a President Alexander.

Getting Out the Word

“Lamar Alexander is just as dangerous if not more so than Pat Buchanan. Alexander is being endorsed by (former Reagan ED secretary) William Bennett, who is an enemy of Blacks in higher education,” Stark says.

Stark is part of the small group of Black political scientists who assert that there should be more Black scrutiny of the drive by Republicans to unseat President Clinton and undermine Black political gains.

“Why aren’t we putting together a team to sound the warnings now so that we can avoid some of the problems that McKinney and Cleo Fields have encountered?” he says. He was referring to the federal court actions that have resulted in the redrawing of predominantly Black congressional districts now represented by Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Cleo Fields (D-LA).

Other Black political thinkers are less alarmed by the state of the race for the White House so far.

“What can Pat Buchanan and Lamar Alexander do that (President) Ronald Reagan didn’t do.” says Dr. Hanes Walton, political science professor at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

“These people are merely candidates for the nomination.” he says. “The key thing will come when we find out who won the primary season.”

Voting-Age Population, Registration and Participation, Selected Years WHITE 1980 1984 Voting-Age Pop. (in Millions) 137.7 146.8 Percent Registered 68.4% 69.6% Percent Registered Who Voted 60.9% 61.4% BLACK 1980 1984 Voting-Age Population (in Millions) 16.4 18.4 Percent Registered 60.0% 66.3% Percent Registered Who Voted 50.5% 55.8% HISPANIC 1980 1984 Voting-Age Population (in Millions) 8.2 9.5 Percent Registered 36.3% 40.1% Percent Registered Who Voted 29.9% 32.6% WHITE 1988 1992 Voting-Age Pop. (in Millions) 152.9 157.8 Percent Registered 67.9% 70.1% Percent Registered Who Voted 59.1% 63.6% BLACK 1988 1992 Voting-Age Population (in Millions) 19.7 21.0 Percent Registered 64.5% 63.9% Percent Registered Who Voted 51.5% 54.0% HISPANIC 1988 1992 Voting-Age Population (in Millions) 12.9 14.7 Percent Registered 35.5% 35.0% Percent Registered Who Voted 28.8% 28.9%

SOURCE: U. S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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