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August 20, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Daniels advocated Bill Bennett text

Fights over versions of history common

When for-mer Gov. Mitch Daniels was pushing to keep liberal historian Howard Zinn’s readings out of Indiana classrooms three years ago, he had a definite idea of what should be there instead: conservative education leader Bill Bennett’s review of American history.

News that the new Purdue University president tried to have Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” kept from classrooms has sparked a surge in demand for the 1980 book at Indiana libraries. It also put Daniels on the defensive over the past month, drawing condemnations from academics nationwide and having him reiterate his support for academic freedom in higher education even as he is steadfast in his belief that Zinn is wrong for lower grades.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show Bill Bennett had much more favor among Daniels and his advisers. In January 2010, when Daniels discovered the board of education had changed the state’s textbook rules to allow Bennett’s book, he quickly asked how soon his advisers could get copies of “The Last Best Hope” in classrooms.

“This is excellent to hear ... now someone make my day and tell me that his book is becoming the textbook of choice in our state and I’ll buy beers for everyone,” he wrote in a Jan. 27, 2010, email to then-schools chief Tony Bennett, Bennett’s former chief of staff, Todd Huston, and David Shane, a longtime Daniels colleague, Republican donor and school board member.

Bill Bennett has a strong national following, dating from his time as Ronald Reagan’s education secretary. And he’s been an incredibly popular figure in Daniels’ circle of education reformers. Last summer, Tony Bennett looked to national donor Jerry Slusser to fly Bennett to a fundraiser in Jeffersonville.

“I just spoke to Bill Bennett, and he would be happy to come to Jeff to do our reception after the golf outing. We will need to get him here and home (he will be in NC prior to our event). I was wondering if we should see if Jerry Slusser can fly him here and back to DC,” the schools chief wrote on June 15, 2012, in an email to his chief fundraiser, Julie Southworth.

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