Originally created 04/23/98

Challenger takes aim at Coverdell's voting



His business is cookies, but now Michael Coles is looking to get into education, military health care and Social Security.

Mr. Coles, a Democrat and founder of the Great American Cookie Co. chain, was in Augusta on Wednesday as part of his recently launched campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga. He took aim at the incumbent's recent votes on education and veterans benefits, including Mr. Coverdell's vote against a Democrat-led plan to provide money for schools to take on bonds for new construction. That would have meant $600 million for Georgia schools to address overcrowding without affecting the budget, Mr. Coles said.

"Paul Coverdell has been the single greatest enemy in the United States Senate to public education," Mr. Coles said.

Mr. Coverdell's campaign counters that Mr. Coles is grossly misinformed.

"Michael Coles should stop his negative campaign long enough to turn on a TV and watch Senator Coverdell lead the charge for education and new schools and reading excellence," said Coverdell campaign manager Marty Ryall.

A bill Mr. Coverdell is championing would provide $10.3 billion in block grants to local school boards to spend as they see fit, not as Washington dictates, Mr. Ryall said.

Health care for military retirees was also on Mr. Coles agenda, and he said he would "absolutely" support honoring the oft-broken contract of complete health care coverage promised to those who spent 20 years or more in service.

"If you go into the military and make a career of it, at the end you're going to get what you were promised," Mr. Coles said. He jabbed at a Coverdell vote this month to eliminate $11 billion in health care coverage for veterans with smoking-related illnesses.

But actually Mr. Coverdell voted twice to keep that coverage and only voted to cut coverage when it was included in a larger budget bill over his objections, Mr. Ryall said.

"He's just totally wrong on that," Mr. Ryall said.