- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The rapid exodus of President Bush’s first-term Cabinet continued yesterday with the resignation of the secretaries of education, energy and agriculture.

Added to three resignations at the departments of State, Commerce and Justice in the last week, Mr. Bush is now ensured of at least a half-dozen new faces to help promote his second-term agenda.

Education Secretary Rod Paige, 71, who has vigorously defended Mr. Bush’s education plans — including pushing for experimental school-voucher programs — was rumored to have signaled his exit late last week, and turned in his official letter of resignation yesterday.

“I did not come to Washington as a career move,” Mr. Paige, formerly superintendent of Houston city public schools in Texas and one of three black members of the president’s Cabinet, said in his resignation letter. “I came to help President Bush launch No Child Left Behind and Reading First, and to help establish a culture of accountability in American education.”

Mr. Paige gave no indication to his senior staff before the election that he intended to leave, fueling reports, confirmed by one administration official, that Mr. Bush declined his offer to stay on as secretary.

After a Nov. 3 Cabinet meeting at the White House, Mr. Paige responded to a question about his plans by a Washington Times reporter by saying he served “at the pleasure of the president.”

He also suddenly canceled and did not reschedule a Nov. 5 interview with The Times on the administration’s education agenda for the next four years.

But Susan M. Aspey, spokesman for Mr. Paige, said her boss was simply worn out after four years on the job.

“For some time, the secretary has been interested in moving on. He’s 71 years young. The past four years have been very intense. These jobs take a toll on everybody,” she said.

Mr. Bush praised Mr. Paige’s “hard work” and “passion for taking on the status quo and fighting for reform.”

Also tendering their resignations yesterday were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

All the resignations will take effect only after a successor is confirmed by the Senate early next year, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Mr. Abraham, 52, told Mr. Bush that he wanted to leave the Department of Energy to spend more time with his family, but there is speculation the Michigan native wants to work for an automobile trade organization.

Mr. Abraham told the president he regretted he could not help pass the administration’s massive new energy bill, but took pride in spearheading “the nation’s first comprehensive energy plan in over a decade and implementing 90 percent of its recommendations.”

Mr. Bush has expressed interest in trying again to open up a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling — the biggest obstacle to getting his energy plan approved by the Senate.

Among the candidates to replace Mr. Abraham are Bush family friend Tony Garza, U.S. ambassador to Mexico and former Texas secretary of state. He and Alberto Gonzales, nominated for attorney general, would be the second and third Hispanics to serve in Mr. Bush’s Cabinet.

Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute and Mr. Bush’s roommate at Yale, is also being considered for the post at the Energy Department, as is Augusta, Ga., Mayor Bob Young, who is chairman of the energy committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In her tenure at the Department of Agriculture, Mrs. Veneman faced a series of crises that threatened to roil U.S. markets and block exports, including the country’s first case of mad cow disease, discovered in December 2003.

According to administration officials, Mr. Paige’s likely successor is Margaret Spellings, 46, Mr. Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser, who joined him 10 years ago when he was campaigning for governor of Texas.

Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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