- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

The United States lost one of the nation's most softspoken, hard-working, collegial public servants Tuesday when Georgia Sen. Paul Coverdell died. Mr. Coverdell was all these things, but he was also one of the Senate's most influential and effective members.

Mr. Coverdell was a conservative Republican who nonetheless easily managed to forge bipartisan coalitions in pursuit of his most important issues, the eradication of drugs and the education of America's children. He was one of the Senate's chief backers of the recent emergency funding bill that featured a $1.3 billion aid package for Colombia to fight drug trafficking. On the education front, beginning in 1997 Mr. Coverdell built a bipartisan coalition with Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli to push for education IRAs at the very time Mr. Torricelli was vice chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which targeted Mr. Coverdell as the most vulnerable Republican. In the end, not only did the Coverdell-Torricelli coalition manage to pass a bipartisan bill endorsing education savings accounts, (which, regrettably, President Clinton later vetoed), but Mr. Coverdell also prevailed in his Senate re-election bid, becoming the first senator to win re-election for that Georgia seat since 1974 and the first Republican senator to win re-election in Georgia since Reconstruction.

Mr. Coverdell was as tireless in his pursuit of varied legislative initiatives as he was unconcerned about who received the credit. First elected to the Senate in 1992, as a first-year freshman he played a pivotal role in opposition to the Clinton administration's overreaching health care plan. He later championed medical savings accounts, obtaining their inclusion in an insurance portability law. He successfully pursued IRS reform. With Mr. Coverdell having actively pursued the elimination of the marriage-penalty tax for the past several years, the U.S. Senate appropriately passed bipartisan legislation that would accomplish that goal on the day Mr. Coverdell died.

Early in his first term, he became an indispensable confidant to now-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who nicknamed Mr. Coverdell "Mikey" because the Georgia senator, like the lad in the 1970s Life cereal commercial who was willing to "eat anything," would take on any assignment, no matter how potentially unpleasant or unglamorous.

Former President George Bush remembered him this way: "Paul Coverdell was one of the kindest and most decent men I met in my entire life," Mr. Bush said. "We shall miss him as we would miss our own son." Goodbye, "Mikey." You indeed will be missed.

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