Hoekstra also says he’s impressed with what he’s seen so far of the new president’s managerial skill, but he’s not so impressed with Mr. Bush’s apparent commitment to nationwide testing as a means of making the public schools accountable.
“It causes some tension when I hear the president saying we’re going to be testing annually, third grade through eighth grade,” he said.
After talking with numerous area school superintendents, he said, “we’ve seen over time that what testing does is drive curriculum,” he said. “This is where the debate’s going to be.
“If we develop some kind of nationally mandated testing, depending upon how it comes out, we’re coming close to having a national curriculum … and that,” he added emphatically, “is not why I went to Washington.”
Hoekstra, a frequent critic of bloat and lack of accountability (and financial auditing) in the U.S. Department of Education, believes schools perform better if they respond to the communities in which they are based.
“You mandate curriculum and you mandate testing and you can give the schools all the flexibility you want,” he said, but he cautioned that the schools will be marching to the federal drum.
Hoekstra, who was defeated in a bid for the chairmanship of the House Education and Workforce Committee, believes the new chairman will appoint him to head the Subcommittee on Higher Education. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the National Endowment for the Humanities, its often-controversial National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for National Service.
He’ll be the second-most senior Republican on the House Budget Committee and he expected as of mid-week last week to receive an appointment to the House Intelligence Committee.
The Intelligence Committee deals, largely in secret, with the work of the National Security Agency, the giant code-breaking agency that monitors the world via satellites, with the Central Intelligence Agency, to a limited degree with the FBI, and with the armed services’ smaller intelligence arms.
He said he sought the assignment to add a foreign affairs dimension to his experience in the Capitol. He said the global economy and global marketplace virtually demand a broader view on the part of Congressmen.
“And this will get me in on the rest of the story,” he said, grinning, “which I won’t be able to talk about.”
He indicated that terrorism, such as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and espionage and security failures such as those at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons facilities, all are part of the committee’s brief.
Perhaps, he said, he’ll also find out “what we are flying today that none of us knows about.”
But, he stressed, “I want to find out what is going on inside China today: economically, politically, socially, culturally — are they a threat?”
While time spent on the Intelligence Committee will take time from his work on Education and Workforce, he believes knowing China is important from the standpoint of international competitiveness and trade.
He also said he plans at least one trip to India to see what he understands to be one of the world’s most advanced computer and high-tech industries.
But he said the bulk of his time will be spent in education because it is of personal interest to him, because it’s an area of high interest among his constituents and because it’s probably the new president’s top priority.
He believes some tax cuts will pass, but he said, “I’m not going to agree to budgets that have significant tax cuts without some significant cuts in spending. I don’t want to see us going back to the Reagan years.
“I would love to do that (the Bush) tax cut, but it’s got to have some companion legislation which cuts spending.
“Our leadership has got to suck it up and make some tough spending decisions,” he said, noting that the GOP has been anything but restrained in its spending habits. “President Bush has got to suck it up too.”
Despite last week’s attacks upon John Ashcroft, Bush’s nominee for Attorney General, Hoekstra said he believes Washington will be less confrontational, at least initially.
The difference, he said, will be derived from the differences between President Bush and President Clinton.
“Clinton relished confrontation. That’s not George Bush. I believe Clinton woke up each morning trying to figure how he was going to kick our butts today — and I believe he got in more good punches than we did.
“But I think now you’re going to see a different tone in Washington. At least for a while.”
He explained that he was one of 20 members of Congress invited to meet with President-elect Bush just before Christmas.
He believes everybody was impressed.
“The guy was literate on the issues,” he said. “I believe he surprised the Democrats. This is not the bumbling, shallow individual that some people would have us believe. He’s effective and he’s got a pretty good group of people around him. He’s positioned himself to be successful. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but I think he might do pretty well.”