- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Margaret La Montagne Spellings, 46, an architect of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and his chief domestic-policy adviser for the past four years, is the president’s nominee to replace Rod Paige as education secretary, according to administration sources.

Mrs. Spellings, former chief lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards in Austin, joined George W. Bush as a key adviser on education issues during his 1994 campaign for governor of Texas and has been with him ever since.

The president is expected to announce her nomination as early as today.

Like National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was nominated yesterday to succeed Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, Mrs. Spellings is a Bush loyalist.

Mrs. Spellings worked for six years as Mr. Bush’s education adviser in Austin, pushing state early-reading and student-accountability initiatives that became the basis for the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

She also has advised him on policy issues ranging from health care to transportation every day of his presidency.

Mr. Bush has been one of Mrs. Spellings’ greatest admirers. He told the Dallas Morning News in September 2001, “You bet she was an education person in Texas, but I realized how brilliant a woman she is. She can handle just about every task we give her.”

Administration officials, particularly at the Education Department, say Mrs. Spellings has been the drive behind the administration education policy throughout Mr. Bush’s first term from the White House.

“Secretary Paige and this team at the department have been the implementers of an agenda orchestrated by Margaret and the president, which was handed to us,” an aide to Mr. Paige said on the condition of anonymity.

“It makes good sense for her to come down here to continue the job of implementing and building nationally on No Child Left Behind,” the aide said.

The former Margaret La Montagne, a divorced mother when she came to Washington in 2001, lived with her two young daughters and her sister in suburban Virginia until Austin, Texas, lawyer Robert Spellings publicly asked her to marry him at a dinner honoring Bush political director Karl Rove that spring.

Mr. Spellings has two sons from a former marriage.

Mr. Rove, in an interview this fall, described Mrs. Spellings as “the most influential woman in Washington that you’ve never heard of.”

Sandy Kress, a Democratic Austin lawyer who helped build the bipartisan coalition for No Child Left Behind as a White House deputy to Mrs. Spellings in 2001, said of her relationship with the president: “She understands what he thinks. They’re very, very close.”

“She’s conservative, but she’ll listen to teachers, she’ll listen to administrators,” Mr. Kress told the Associated Press. “She wants to change the system, but she wants to talk to people in the system. She’ll work very hard to get it right and involve people so they feel a part of the process.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said yesterday that Mrs. Spellings is “a capable, principled leader who has the ear of the president and has earned strong, bipartisan respect in Congress.”

Her appointment requires the consent of the Senate.

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