Bush Releasing Education Proposals

Saturday, August 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) — Aiming to blunt Al Gore's convention bounce, George W. Bush is releasing bite-sized education proposals to contrast the candidates' priorities — and to answer Democratic criticism of the Texas governor's grasp of public policy.

``My opponent said his first legislative proposal would be for campaign funding reform, and that's fine, although he's a little short on credibility on the issue,'' Bush said Friday in Memphis, Tenn., with a nod toward fund-raising charges that continue to dog Gore.

``My first will be the education of our children,'' the Republican presidential nominee said.

Blending that theme with an ongoing effort to reach out to minority groups, Bush was traveling to Las Cruces, N.M., Saturday after a morning rally in Dallas to promise that his administration would bring American Indian schools, particularly in the West and Northwest, up to par with others.

``Tragically, schools on tribal lands are often in poor physical condition and lack basic resources,'' Bush said in prepared remarks. ``The federal government has a front-line responsibility to fix these schools and provide an environment in which children can learn.''

It was the first in a new string of mini-proposals on the subject that Bush is issuing this week, following the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. There, Gore and others attacked the Texas governor for what they said was happy-face rhetoric that lacked specifics and any indication that Bush understands the political and legislative realities that would confront him in the White House.

The vice president, in contrast, issued a policy-heavy speech when he accepted his party's nomination, acknowledging that such details might not make him the most exciting politician.

But he pledged to win over American voters, and early poll evidence suggests that he may be off to a good start.

A Voter.com-Battleground tracking poll released Friday had Gore within 5 points of Bush, 45 percent to 40 percent, narrowing Bush's 18-point lead in the same survey after the GOP convention.

Bush told reporters that Gore's speech rallied Democratic delegates but also served to emphasize divisions among Americans on certain issues.

``It's going to be hard to lead if you're pitting groups against each other,'' Bush said. ``That's the rhetoric of the past ... group warfare or class warfare. ... And I don't think Americans are going buy that style of leadership.''

With running mate Dick Cheney at his side, Bush burst back onto the campaign trail Friday in Gore's home state, vowing to win Tennessee just as he would Texas, his next stop on the two-day swing. He said the race would ``settle out'' around Labor Day.

``Now that the conventions are over, the battle lines are clearly drawn. The voters have a clear choice,'' Bush told an enthusiastic crowd of about 6,000 in an industrial office park warehouse in a Memphis suburb.

Several thousand more waited outside.

Drifting past Lansing, Iowa, on a Mississippi river boat, Gore was asked about Bush's campaign stop. ``He is more than welcome,'' the vice president said. ``I've represented Tennessee for 16 years, I've got a lot of friends and neighbors who are going to be working hard for me.''

Recent polls have suggested a close race statewide.

For his part, Gore has made Texas-bashing a central campaign theme — and had taunted Bush with a foray into Texas just before the Republican convention.

Bush was continuing his drive to appeal to minority voters with the gesture toward Native Americans.

Citing a 1997 government report that said some 50,000 children are attending 185 Indian schools that are among the worst in the nation, he was promising to prod Congress into spending $802 million on tardy repairs at Indian schools and $126 million to replace six schools.

Most of those shabby schools are managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and concentrated in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington state, according to the Bush campaign.

Bush also was attending a private reception in Mesilla, N.M., to raise $200,000 for the state GOP.