Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman says he stands behind a campaign commercial that some Democrats say is misleading. The critics, including the chair of the St. Paul School Board, say the spot gives Coleman too much credit for helping to improve St. Paul Schools. They also maintain Coleman can't say that he supports more federal funding for Minnesota school and President Bush's education legislation.
Coleman says the education TV advertisement that is drawing criticism from supporters of Sen. Paul Wellstone was carefully put together by his campaign with input from St. Paul School Superintendent Pat Harvey.
Some Democrats, with the help of Wellstone campaign staffers, held a news conference to accuse Coleman of trying to mislead voters with the latest education ad.
"Let's be honest. Let's stop stretching the truth. Let's pull the ad," demanded St. Paul School Board Chair Al Oertwig, who says Coleman shouldn't be taking credit for the St. Paul Reads program, which he says has much more to do with the school board and superintendent Pat Harvey.
"Let me tell you, I hired Pat Harvey, and Pat Harvey and I discussed the 25 book campaign before Pat Harvey ever came to this town and it was Pat Harvey who went to Norm Coleman and said, 'please help me with this.' It was not Norm Coleman who initiated this," Oertwig said.
Although Oertwig wants Coleman to stop running the ad, he acknowledges Coleman supported the reading program and Oertwig is not disputing the former mayor's claim to the title of co-founder of St. Paul Reads.
Fourth District DFL Congresswomen Betty McCollum is taking issue with Coleman's claim that he supports increased funding for Minnesota schools. McCollum says Coleman can't take that position and support the Bush education bill.
"The president's bill reduced the amount of funding to Minnesota schools, particularly for special education, where we lost more than $2 billion over 10 years. The fact is Minnesota school districts would have been better off without this federal education reform," McCollum said.
McCollum says only one member of Minnesota's congressional delegation voted for the Bush education bill. The president's bill, however, does increase funding for special education and other programs, but not by the amount many Democrats, and Republicans for that matter, had wanted.
Responding to his critics' news conference, Coleman met with reporters, and said he has no intention of pulling the ad.
"I'm not overstating. I think it's fair to say that we helped improve. It's fair to say I've been a champion of reform and I have been. It's fair to say that we co-founded a St. Paul reads program that the district has heralded," Coleman said.
Coleman also says he supports having the federal government fulfill its decades-old pledge to cover 40 percent of mandated special education costs. However, he says it would have to happen over time.
Along with their criticism of the Coleman ad, the Wellstone supporters distributed statistics pointing to problems within the St.Paul school system, including troublesome math and reading test scores and financial difficulty at charter schools. Coleman told reporters that Wellstone supporters should not be criticizing St. Paul schools for political purposes.
"I'm absolutely stunned that the Democrats and the Wellstone campaign stands here and first slashes and trashes St. Paul public schools, talks about the lack of success of a program that's been championed by a superintendent that we've all worked to keep and then criticizes - beats up on charter schools, a concept that the president - their President Bill Clinton - came to St. Paul to tout our success just a few years ago," Coleman said.
Expect more scraping between Republicans and Democrats over education; both sides consider it one of the most important issues to voters going into this fall's election.More from MPR