President Bush on Monday named former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander education secretary, filling a Cabinet slot vacated last week when Lauro Cavazos was forced to resign.
Bush made the announcement at a morning meeting with reporters at which he also introduced his choice for labor secretary, outgoing Rep. Lynn Martin. Bush announced the Martin appointment Friday, while she was home in Illinois.Still open is the top job at the Republican National Committee, vacant anew because of last week's surprise withdrawal by William Bennett.
Alexander has long been a recognized national leader in education reform. He left the Tennessee governorship in 1986 and now is president of the University of Tennessee.
"Lamar, if you remember, was at the forefront of efforts to restructure our nation's schools," Bush said in introducing Alexander.
Of Martin, Bush said, "Working Americans have a friend in Lynn Martin. She understands the challenges facing our work force."
As governor, Alexander installed a career ladder for Tennessee teachers that offered better pay for improved performance. Alexander promised to help Bush advance his goal of becoming known as the education president. Cavazos was forced out by White House chief of staff John Sununu and others in the administration who did not believe he was being a forceful advocate of Bush's agenda.
Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said he was optimistic that Alexander could bring to the department some of the dynamism that critics said it lacked under Cavazos.
"I'm hopeful," he said. "I doubt very much he'd take the position unless there was that kind of expectation."
Martin, who lost in an effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Paul Simon, replaces Elizabeth Dole at Labor and as the sole woman in the Bush Cabinet.
"We will make sure the 1990s will be remembered as a pinnacle of chance and opportunity," Martin said. "If I do my job, it means that somewhere sometime, someone's life will be better. Someone will have a better chance. That's really what government is supposed to be about."
The Martin and Alexander appointments are all but certain to win confirmation on Capitol Hill. Both will have to go before the Senate Education and Labor Committee, probably in January.
The moves also fill the Cabinet, for now.
Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner is among those being considered for the chairman's post at the Republican National Committee, a position Bush is expected to fill soon.
Alexander said his priorities will be to improve schools for the nation's children and provide training and adult education opportunities for American workers who need new skills for the changing workplace.
In the latter effort, Martin pledged her cooperation.
On the subject of race-based scholarships, Bush has ordered the Education Department to conduct a review, with advice from the Justice Department and White House lawyers, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
Bush "believes these scholarships are important to minorities and to ensuring opportunities for all Americans to get a good education," Fitzwater said.
Alexander said, "We have scholarships for minority students who are poor at the University of Tennessee" and they have proved useful in helping poor students get an education.
"It's ultimately a constitutional question and we'll try to assure the students that under any reasonable set of circumstances, those who now have scholarships shouldn't be in fear of those," Alexander said.