- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Education Secretary Rod Paige was a leading advocate of President Bush's brief to the Supreme Court against the University of Michigan's race-based admissions policy, the Cabinet member told editors and reporters of The Washington Times yesterday.
"I would say that our department was kind of the lead department in the information flowing towards the White House on this," Mr. Paige said of the president's deliberations on the Michigan case, where plaintiffs have challenged the constitutionality of the school's use of racial preferences in admissions.
"I was pretty clear on what my position was, and so I haven't had to wobble on it very much, and that is that I think the president was absolutely correct on his decision with the Michigan situation. … And I believe that, where it is true that there are still lots of barriers in front of certain ethnic groups, you can't fight discrimination with discrimination," said Mr. Paige, who is black.
"We've got to work together and live together. And if there's an opportunity to gain the president's goal he stated diversity is a goal in his comments now the people who agree that diversity is a goal, they should take that off the table. We've all agreed."
The president's two other top black advisers, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, have both weighed in on Mr. Bush's stance on the Michigan case.
Mr. Powell supports affirmative action. Miss Rice has publicly said that Michigan's system is possibly unconstitutional but said she believes race can and should be a factor in admissions.
Mr. Bush called Michigan's policies flawed and unconstitutional because he said they unfairly give preference to some minority applicants. The president and Mr. Paige have embraced plans in Texas and elsewhere that guarantee college admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Paige said he would meet with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, today to press for the city's support of the administration's pilot school-voucher proposal. Mr. Paige said expansion of school choice for minorities and the poor is an important element of the president's diversity agenda.
"It's pretty clear to me the District does want it," Mr. Paige said of the voucher demonstration program approved by Congress in 1997 but vetoed by President Clinton.
"When I look at the polls that I read after the Clinton administration vetoed the other bill, when I look at the traffic going into [Washingtons] charter schools, when I look at the demand that's only restricted by building availability, space, that type of thing, it's clear that the interest among citizens is for something like this," the secretary said.
Mr. Paige said he has not yet received a nonbinding report on Title IX from his Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, which will offer new proposals on enforcing the law that requires parity between men and women in college sports.
But he said he believes race and sex should remain factors in government efforts to guarantee equal opportunities for all citizens where barriers still exist.
"Whenever there's a possibility to get to this without it being a factor, I think that's probably the way to go. I'm not in a position, however, to rule out or foreclose some possibility where our goal cannot be reached otherwise. I agree with the president, the goal of diversity, but first we need to look and see if it could be done with non-racial-based decision-making."
Mr. Paige acknowledged that black political leaders, mostly aligned with the Democratic Party, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People made a concerted effort during the 2000 presidential campaign to damage Mr. Bush's standing with black voters.
"As the governor of Texas, I think he had up to 35 percent of the African-American vote," said Mr. Paige, a former Houston schools superintendent. He cited three incidents that helped to erode that support in Texas and nationally, he said.
Those three things were:
Attacks against Mr. Bush's unwillingness to stop the execution of convicted murderer Gary Graham.
Publicity concerning the brutal murder of Jasper County, Texas, resident James Byrd Jr., who white racists chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death.
A national NAACP anti-Bush TV ad showing re-enacted film footage of the Byrd killing.
Mr. Paige, a longtime member of the NAACP, said he "would not make a judgment about their motives" in airing the Byrd ad. "Just to see it on television, as any citizen, I could pretty much assure you that it wasn't very helpful" to the Bush-Cheney campaign, he said.
"When you have events like that ad, it made a difference, as we know that all ads make a difference. I think this one had something to do with the explanation between [Mr. Bushs] growing support among African-Americans as governor and as a national figure, and later on being one who has very much diminished support in the African-American community."
Mr. Paige said he hopes Mr. Bush's leadership in pushing Congress to approve his No Child Left Behind public schools overhaul will rekindle his political support among black and Hispanic voters. The law requires states to show improved performance by elementary and secondary students in math and reading, or risk losing federal money.
"I still have hope that the NAACP, given its wonderful history and its mission on the well-being, specifically of African-Americans, will come to the view that the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the most powerful vehicles that could be used to gain the purpose that they espouse, that we espouse," he said.
Minority and low-income parents don't want their children trapped in failing public schools, the secretary said. He cited teacher unions, specifically the National Education Association, as "one of the problems" because they put teacher compensation and job protection before competence and achievement in the classroom.
"I think the problem is exempting this enterprise, this institution we call public schooling, from the tried-and-true principles that make all other entities, enterprises, institutions work right," Mr. Paige said.

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