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Ally of Jeb Bush, John McCain Helping Pawlenty Presidential Campaign

Tim Pawlenty has turned to a familiar source for advice as he makes his bid for the Republican presidential nomination: longtime Florida political and education insider Phil Handy.

Campaign 2012

Handy served as chairman of the state's board of education under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who has ruled out a 2012 White House bid—and thus had a role in shaping that state's ambitious and influential policies on school choice, charters, and testing and grading schools.

He brings high-level campaign experience to Pawlenty's team. Handy served as a top adviser on school issues during Sen. John McCain's unsuccessful 2008 bid for the White House.

Handy, who has owned and operated many businesses, is now the CEO of Strategic Industries, a portfolio of companies focused on services and manufacturing. He also served on the National Board of Education Sciences, after being appointed by President George W. Bush.

I recently interviewed Handy to get his thoughts for an EdWeek story about the 2012 presidential campaign, the possibility that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels might run, and how the two major parties might frame the issue of private school vouchers in that race.

Handy is a supporter of vouchers. While he thinks the economy, not education, will be the top issue in the campaign, he also said the issues are interrelated.

"Businesses will not come to your state unless your schools are working," he said.

Since leaving the Florida state board of education, Handy has remained involved in education issues. He serves on the board of one of Jeb Bush's two education-focused foundations, the Foundation for Florida's Future. He's also been invited and agreed to serve on the board of the second organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which works with policymakers in states around the country, a spokeswoman for the group said.

Other Republican contenders for the White House will no doubt be choosing their own counsel on education issues in the months ahead—if they haven't already.

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