Sen. Paula Hawkins, the conservative Republican from Florida, was all smiles and jokes yesterday -- the perfect hostess -- as she ran the Labor and Human Resources committee hearing on the controversial appointment of Wendy Borcherdt as a deputy under secretary in the Department of Education. Hearings on low-level appointments do not usually provide the stuff of high drama. But this was not a normal hearing, and it is not a routine political appointment.
Borcherdt, it should be remembered, is a conservative from California who has been closely connected with the conservative takeover of the National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Equity and the very untidy firing of Joy Simonson, its highly respected executive director.
The council, stacked with women from such organizations as Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, replaced Simonson last July with Rosemary Thomson, an Eagle Forum leader from Illinois who had testified in favor of discontinuing the $6 million a year funding for the Women's Educational Equity Act program.
Borcherdt, at the time, was working for presidential adviser Elizabeth Dole, who was out of town when Simonson was fired. Dole was so distressed at the way the affair was handled that she called Simonson at home that weekend. Shortly thereafter, Borcherdt was removed from Dole's office and was nominated for the education department job. She went to work on an acting basis in the spot that puts her in charge of women's concerns, among other constituencies, and makes her responsible for overseeing the advisory council.
That was too much for a number of groups ranging from the American Association of University Women to the American Association of School Administrators, which for the first time in its 115-year history asked to oppose a nomination.
Paul B. Salmon, AASA's executive director, also objects to Borcherdt's insistence that meetings between her employes and outside groups be approved by her. She told the hearing this was to avoid duplication of employe efforts. Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) told the hearing it was censorship.
And that was certainly the way the hearing was conducted. A half dozen groups that had wanted to testify against Borcherdt were denied the opportunity, ostensibly because the committee had a number of nominations to process. At the last minute, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) secured an agreement from committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) to let one person speak in opposition. But word never got to Hawkins.
Pell made repeated attempts yesterday to have the groups given time to testify. He challenged Borcherdt on what he found to be a derogatory use of the term feminist. He said he'd come into the hearing with an open mind but was troubled by the tenor of her responses.
Pell wanted to know about Rosemary Thomson. Borcherdt said she had not selected Thomson, the advisory council had. What she didn't mention was that the minutes of that meeting show her intimately involved in providing the council with the resumes of candidates and in arranging interviews. Thomson, for example, was in town and ready to be interviewed by a search committee headed by a fellow Eagle Forum member the day Simonson was fired.
Toward the end of the hearing, it looked as though Pell might finally have cornered Hawkins into letting opponents of Borcherdt testify. But Hawkins insisted that the organizations affirm in some way that the speakers were representing their views. Pell, looking somewhat astounded, protested. "In the 22 years I've served on this committee, we've never had this procedure." But it was clear the more Hawkins thought about it the more she liked the idea. She said she was going to ask the committee to change its rules "for our own protection."
"We haven't had a problem for the 22 years I've been on the committee," responded Pell, taken even further aback. "This is just another piece of paperwork."
Suddenly, Gordon J. Humphrey, (R-N.H.), appeared out of nowhere and with exquisite timing invoked a Senate rule against committees meeting for more than two hours after the Senate goes in session. Hawkins shot up like a bolt and the hearing ended.
The hearing ended with no answers to the troubling questions about the way Borcherdt does business. The committee will vote later on her nomination, but meanwhile she survived this day, not on her merits, but through censorship and shenanigans by her New Right friends.