Former Oklahoma Congressman (and OU Quarterback) J.C. Watts, a Republican, is trying to get the presidential candidates to focus on education issues. Here’s an Associated Press story:
By MIKE GLOVER
AP Political Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Presidential rivals Barack Obama and John McCain must be willing to challenge their political bases if real change is to come to the nation’s schools, a leading advocate for education change said Thursday.
In an effort to build pressure on the candidates to lead such efforts, former Oklahoma Republican Rep. J.C. Watts said he and others are taking the issue to battleground states such as Iowa.
Watts, who once was part of the GOP House leadership, spent the day meeting with elected leaders, school officials and suburban business leaders as part of the campaign to focus the presidential campaign on education. He cited polls showing voters rank the economy and education as more important than the war in Iraq.
“It’s just the bully pulpit that a presidential candidate has,” said Watts. “We think we have the ear of the candidates, but in a campaign you are often driven by the labor of the day.”
Watts is part of a group called Strong American Schools ED in ’08, headed by Roy Roemer, a former Democratic governor of Colorado. The group seeks fundamental reforms in the nation’s school system, and Watts said only a presidential campaign provides the platform for such far-reaching changes.
“In order for there to be real change, I think presidential candidates in whichever party have to be willing to take their base places where their base isn’t willing to go,” said Watts.
He argued that Republicans must accept an increase in teacher pay and that Democrats must agree to the notion that school standards should be raised.
“A Democratic nominee will have to be willing to take teachers’ unions places they’re not willing to go,” said Watts. “A Republican nominee will have to be able to take the right, who says parental choice in education is the solution to everything, he’s going to have to be able to take the base places they’re not willing to go.”
Watts said he was encourag ed that both Obama and McCain have shown a willingness to break from political convention.
“John and Barack are both pretty doggone good listeners,” said Watts.
He said this year’s campaign could start a movement with a payoff in later years. He noted that President Kennedy launched America’s effort to reach the Moon, an accomplishment that came nearly six years after his death. And while many credit President Reagan for the fall of the Berlin Wall, it came down nearly a year after he left office.
“It’s more than a four-month process,” he said.
One of the toughest sales jobs will be on standards, Watts conceded, pointing to his days as a star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma.
“We’re not advocating a federal takeover of the school system,” said Watts. “As a quarterback, I had standards and if I didn’t adhere to those standards I wasn’t in there. There has to be standards. There has to be accountability.”