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Meet Sen. Bingaman, the Newest Member of ESEA's Big 8

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is going to play a big part in the push to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He'll serve as a key wingman to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Bingaman will be taking over former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd's role in the "Big 8"—the lawmakers who the Obama administration is courting in its push to renew the education law, said Jude McCartin, Bingaman's spokeswoman. Dodd, D-Conn., retired from Congress last year.

Although the Big 8 is made up of the chairman and ranking members of the committees and subcommittees overseeing K-12 policy, it's unclear whether Bingaman will also take over the subcommittee on education that Dodd headed in the previous Congress. But he will be taking Dodd's place as the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate on ESEA reauthorization.

Bingaman, whose state includes lots of Hispanic students, has a keen interest in English-language learners. And he's been active on mathematics and science education, as well as high school overhaul and graduation rates.

Bingaman has a record of bringing bipartisan legislation to the finish-line, including an energy bill in 2005. He recently championed the America COMPETES Act, working closely with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the Senate's K-12 policy subcommittee. Alexander, who's also a member of the Big 8, will be a major GOP player on ESEA.

And Bingaman has an important connection to a key member of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's team, in that he's Carmel Martin's former boss. Martin, as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, is responsible for selling the administration's ESEA proposal on Capitol Hill. She worked for Bingaman when NCLB was under consideration in the Senate, back in 2001.

Bingaman's help could be important. According to (unidentified) comments on a survey of education insiders conducted by Whiteboard Advisors, Harkin is better known for his principled stances on key issues than his inclination to wheel-and-deal. (We wrote about the survey here.) And more importantly, Harkin may be very busy this year working to fend off Republican attempts to dismantle the health care law.

Harkin's spokeswoman, Justine Sessions, said they're happy to have Bingaman on the Big 8 team:

"Chairman Harkin asked Senator Bingaman to step into the role vacated by Senator Dodd as the No. 2 Senate Democrat in the bipartisan/bicameral ESEA negotiations, while Harkin continues in his roles as lead Senate Democrat. Senator Bingaman is one of the many HELP Committee members with great expertise and interest in education reform, and Chairman Harkin looks forward to an inclusive bipartisan process that leverages the strengths of individual HELP Committee members."
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