A New and Improved Teflon Politician

Call it irony, call it blowback, call it what you'd like: George W. Bush takes a shot for hauling his state-paid protective detail all over the country during his presidential bid. That story, in the Austin American-Statesman, came within two days of stories about First Lady Hillary Clinton flying between Washington, DC, and New York state, where she has an exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate bid.

Then Bush, who fortified his standing in the millionaire ranks last year with his proceeds from the sale of the Texas Rangers baseball club, said he'll forgo his state pay when he's outside of Texas running for president. That news arrived on the day the Austin paper ran its story, and the news about the salary deal pushed the news about the security detail to the back of the bus.

Those accounts landed in the middle of the muddle over campaign finance, a murky debate that started when Bush announced his phenomenal success at fundraising, announced last week. The other Republicans in the race and a fair portion of the punditocracy went on at length about what that might or might not mean to the political process. All of this is a way of saying that Bush is beginning to attract the slings and arrows that always seek out a political frontrunner.

The towel snap over Bush's security detail, and longer stories about his Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard, mark the first signs of national scrutiny of the Texas governor in the presidential context. And if it goes in the national arena as it has in the Texas venue, more people are about to see the best coat of Teflon on a politician since Ronald Reagan.

Taking the Palace Guard Out of the Palace

When the governor leaves Texas for more than 24 hours, the lieutenant governor collects a paycheck for acting in his place. But the governor's pay doesn't cut off. The result, according to the governor's office, is that both Bush and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry get paid $316.01 each for every day the governor is out of the state. From here out, he'll turn down the pay, and he's also returning seven days of pay he got last month for days spent campaigning elsewhere. Bush's annual pay rate is $115,345; When everyone's at home and working for the state, Perry gets paid the same $600 per month, or $7,200 a year, that legislators get.

The story that got shoved aside is relatively small beer, but lands in that fuzzy area between public and private uses of public resources. The Department of Public Safety says it must guard Bush no matter what he's doing or where he's doing it. A protective detail from the U.S. Secret Service won't jump in and watch over presidential candidates this early. So the state police officers who watch over the state's chief executive are making the presidential rounds. Bush's folks say the state isn't paying for travel, lodging and meals for the bodyguards, so the only extra cost, apparently, is for overtime pay.

That security detail is now handling press passes for state events, but out of the campaign office. It's more a curiosity than anything -- they have to handle it somewhere -- but the DPS is in the awkward position of granting admittance to gubernatorial press conferences on state business on the basis of whether reporters are carrying credentials issued by a presidential campaign.

This is a quadrennial affair, but it's still an uncomfortable area, as the National Republican Party is illustrating with its dissing of would-be Sen. Clinton. The same thing comes up in state races, too: Bush's security detail followed him around the state when he was running last year for a second term. Four years earlier, those stern men in sunglasses were following Ann Richards. It's difficult for other candidates to attack, unless they can argue that the public spending puts them at a disadvantage.

The Long, Winding and Muddy Road

By most accounts, the Texas press has gone easy on the governor. That's a line that began during the race between Bush and Richards and that continues through the present. On matters of policy, it stems from Bush's limiting of his time and energy to just a few things. Famously, in 1994, it was the "just four things": tort reform, welfare reform, juvenile justice and public education. That had the advantage of keeping him out of areas where he wasn't up to speed. Good news, mostly, resulted.

But on other matters, Bush has been able to take a shot and keep moving. It's hard to say whether that's because he's lucky, because the Texas press somehow doesn't measure up, because his opponents have iron-poor-tired blood, or what, but he's been mudproof so far.

He has whistled his way through several potential graveyards. There was a spate of stories about the landowners who felt they got run over by Bush & Co. on the deal that created the Ballpark at Arlington. There have been innumerable stories about how he made his money and whether he deserved it or got it by birthright. There were stories about Bush investments in companies that benefited from Bush policies on tort reform and HMOs. There has been a steady trickle of stories about cronies making money on deals involving or deriving from state government.

For the most part, these appeared and then disappeared within days. It's worth noting that his competitors in both parties have been uncharacteristically reluctant or unwilling to try to take advantage when anything like a weakness is exposed. A famous example: Nobody outside of his own party jumped Bush when his 1997 tax package, which included a personal income tax on small business owners, was coming apart. For anyone else in Texas politics, income taxes are about as much fun as the business end of a rattlesnake, but Bush tried it, failed, and ended up getting credit for the tax breaks that came out of that legislative session.

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

The tale about Bush's service in the military initially surfaced during his run against Richards. The basic question is whether Bush was able to avoid Vietnam by signing up for military service that kept him in the states, and whether that was made possible by the fact that his dad was a congressman at the time. The first public sighting of the controversy was in Bush's debate with Richards in 1994. After that, the story pretty much went away. Then it turned up a week ago in the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News, and bang -- we're off to the races again.

The national pundits now take the line that Bush is entering the big leagues and won't get the forbearance from the national press and national political figures that he's enjoyed in Texas.

But even the first foray into the big leagues -- the National Guard piece in the Los Angeles paper -- had the qualifiers that Bush critics have griped about in Texas stories. The Times, while contending Bush got special consideration because of his father, also conceded that he performed well in the Guard, won the respect of superiors and peers, and acquitted himself in spite of his privileges. Hardly the head shot some critics have been predicting.

Bush's huge lead in money and in the polls could temper all the criticism or make it more desperate, according to several political pros we asked. One line of thought is that he'll take his shots from Republicans who can't compete on the financial level and who hope to knock him down with something from his past, whether as a private citizen or as governor. The counterpoint is that Republicans will fade away quickly, and that any volleys will come from the Democratic camp.

All agree that the volleys will come. If Bush is able to duplicate nationally the run he's had with the press and political opponents in Texas, the national media will soon be repeating what it said about Reagan, the original Teflon president, and about Bill Clinton, who's turned the political trick of ducking bad news into an art form: Nothing sticks.

A Slow Start for All Else in Texas Politics

Sometimes it's the things that aren't happening that are worth noticing.

There aren't many state legislators announcing plans to leave. Not many have announced plans for reelection, either. You can usually bet on at least a half-dozen members of the Legislature getting to the end of the session and swearing never to repeat. You can usually count on a few members saying they've received offers from business or lobby firms that are just too attractive to refuse. You can generally count on one or two or three members to see the writing on the wall and quit before they get whupped in the next cycle.

Not so this time. Only a few lawmakers are making future plans known. For the most part, they're the folks who are seeking other offices. Consultants who are out drumming for business are finding slim pickings so far. They credit or blame (congenially) Gov. George W. Bush, for sucking the oxygen and the money out of the political world in Texas after the legislative session. Several political watchers cite other reasons for the slow startup: It was a mild legislative session, and few people were riled enough to quit or cut up enough to resign at the end of it. Some say the last two political years were busy enough to leave most legislators as tired (temporarily) of politics as their constituents.

Whatever the cause, there's only spot activity at the moment, most spurred by the desire to climb the food chain. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, is running for Congress. Reps. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and Clyde Alexander, D-Athens, are deciding whether to quit and run for the state Senate seat held by Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. Nixon's deciding whether to try again. Reps. Leo Alvarado and Leticia Van de Putte, both Democrats from San Antonio, have their eyes on the seat now held by Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio, who is ill and will probably not run again.

Take Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, out of the running for the SD 2 seat now held by Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas. He looked hard at it but won't give it a go for two reasons, he says: First, he was only going to make the race if nobody else showed up, and there are two or three candidates now testing the waters on the Republican side. Second, Berman is selling his house, which is in that part of Smith County that belongs to Cain's district. His new home is still going to be inside his own House district, but will be in Sen. Nixon's territory instead of Cain's. Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, is planning to run for reelection in spite of his pledge six years ago to hold himself to three terms in the Texas House. He's sending out a letter to constituents, effectively asking their permission to run again. He might draw an opponent, Jerry Hall, who he says has run under three names in four races this decade.

Congressional Races

The CD 25 primary is off to a rousing start with one candidate, businessman Robert Sharpe, attacking his opponent's consultant. Sharpe says Tom Reiser's hiring of internationally known political consultant Arthur Finkelstein, who is gay, is an affront to family values. This is the first race for Sharpe, a conservative GOP activist who owns a litigation and legal copying business. He says he got in because Reiser wouldn't sign off on the GOP platform that Sharpe helped write last year. (Sharpe is consistent: He also derides Gov. George W. Bush and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole for not signing off.) It's odd to start off with an attack on the opponent's consultant, but Sharpe says he wants to draw distinctions. He's also shooting at Reiser's voting record, which he says is less-than-stellar for someone interested in public office. Reiser's folks say they're sticking with recommendations from the likes of Republican U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions and Sam Johnson of Dallas. Meanwhile, he is focused on money; his camp expects its upcoming finance report to show it raised more than $300,000 so far and has about $210,000 in the bank. The winner of this one will face U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston.

CD 12 U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has drawn an opponent who has the same name as a character on the popular television show "E.R." Mark Greene, a Benbrook contractor and construction consultant, is running as a Democrat. He's a former local coordinator for Ross Perot (in 1992), but has gotten involved in Democratic politics. Granger's opponent last year, Tom Hall, dropped out of the race before Election Day, citing health problems as his reason.

Out-To-Get-You.com

You don't have to tool around the Internet much at all to find sites making fun of or launching grenades at any presidential candidate you can name. That's no surprise, but it is probably a foreshadowing of what's to come in state and local races. Relatively speaking, the Internet is cheap. It's pretty easy to stay anonymous online, or at least to cloak your identity for a while, and as long as you're not showing underage body parts, the content is virtually unregulated. That's why Bush's folks tried a while back to lock down the names of sites that could be used to launch attacks.

They didn't think of everything, and there's no way they could have. Now they're contending with a dozen or so Internet sites that, in their version of a perfect world, probably wouldn't exist. In just a few months time, we'll wager the same thing is happening much farther down the ballot.

Here's the most recent example, just to show how these are being used now. Some unidentified someone left photos at the Capitol for reporters. The photographs are of a billboard near the University of Texas that has an Internet address -- http://www.georgebush2000.com -- and then, in both English and Spanish, the phrase "Privilege at your expense." The site that the billboard points to isn't nasty, but nothing on it would probably be called favorable by the Bush campaign. For a tour of politics on the Internet, however, it offers a pretty good starting point, with links to other sites that shoot at Bush and at other candidates.

Aides say there's really nothing they can do about it, but they think the people behind such efforts ought to be more open about who they are. This group identifies itself as "Actions Speak Louder Than Words." We looked up their Internet registration, and the address is assigned to a Rodgers and Reichle Inc. of Austin, but didn't get our calls back from the numbers listed.

Presidential Run Disrupts Headline Quest

One of the usual rites of summer has a new twist now that Gov. Bush is running for president. Lawmakers and activists who pushed to see legislation through the session often line up during the summer after a session for ceremonial bill signings. All the bills that are going to be officially signed were signed by the June 20 deadline, but people still want their pictures taken with the governor and want to get their mitts on ceremonial pens and such. But this year, the signings have been trimmed back since the governor is out of town so much. And just about all of the signings that are being held are being held privately -- with no press allowed.

That's not completely out of whack with tradition, but it's just off-key enough to make it tough on lawmakers seeking ink. Bush, see, is the draw for their bill signings, and if he won't talk to the press, then they might not come, etc. That's reduced some lawmakers, like Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, to putting out press releases noting the private ceremony and the fact that the press can't come in, then adding that the senator will be available for interviews outside after the private event. He's not alone in this, but was the first. Don't expect to see a lot of these.

Add a Boston, a Washington, or a Charlotte

Five of the ten fastest-growing big cities in the U.S. are in Texas. San Antonio added more residents -- 137,616 -- than all but one U.S. city (Phoenix). And if you're only counting cities with 1990 populations of 500,000 or more, El Paso shows up third on the list in terms of percentage growth.

The five Texas cities that made the big cities list, followed by the population gain and the percentage jump are: El Paso (99,690, 19.3 percent), Austin (80,415, 17 percent), San Antonio (137,616, 14.1 percent, Houston (132,343, 8 percent), and Dallas (68,276, 6.8 percent).

The numbers, from the U.S. Census Bureau, account for 1990 through 1998. Some other oddities inside the numbers: San Antonio is now bigger than Dallas is (we're counting city limits here, not metro areas); and the five big cities combined added 518,340 new residents during the decade's first eight years. If you do a little rounding, that's about the number of people in each city in the headline.

Yet Another Look at Hispanic Vote Counts

Who got the Hispanic vote continues to be a debating point, but we thought we'd throw in some numbers that haven't seen wide circulation. The San Antonio-based William C. Velasquez Institute did some polling that showed Hispanics, like a lot of other Texans, splitting their tickets. Gov. Bush got 39.1 percent of the Latino vote. Behind him on the ballot, the numbers, according to the study, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry got 28.9 percent of the Hispanic vote, Attorney General John Cornyn got 25.1 percent, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst got 13.8 percent and Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza got 50.1 percent. Each is a Republican, and everyone but Bush was running for the office for the first time.

The numbers we saw didn't include results in the comptroller's race, but did show that the average Texas congressional race went this way among Hispanic voters: 78.7 percent Democrat, 20.7 percent Republican, and 0.6 percent Other. Bush is seeking those voters in other states, and it's worth mentioning that, in California, the average congressional race went 83.8 percent Democrat, 13.8 percent Republican, and 2.5 percent Other.

The Institute says the number of Latinos voting was up 5.8 percent. That increased their share of the total vote to 12.7 percent, up from 10.2 percent in 1994, the last gubernatorial election. More than one in ten voters surveyed by the Institute said the 1998 election marked the first time they voted.

Voter registration for Hispanics was up 36.4 percent, as against a 33.5 percent increase for Texans overall. But while the number of Hispanics actually going to the polls rose, the overall turnout numbers were down by more than 657,000 from 1994 to 1998.

Like some of the other studies, the Institute's polling is still being debated. If you're into such esoterica, they interviewed 380 voters in 24 selected Texas precincts. The margin of error is 5.1 percent, and the survey was designed to cover 90 percent of the Latinos in the state.

Scraps, Crumbs and Other Oddments

• The Texas Democratic Party, which saw its executive director, finance director and communications director all leave last month, is still hunting around after two prospects for executive director's job -- both of them well-respected aides to Democratic state senators -- turned down the party's offers. Part of the problem, we're told, is that there's not much money for salaries.

• The federal judge hearing the Tigua Indian tribe's suit against the state of Texas has thrown it out, but the Tiguas plan to appeal. That El Paso tribe sued for $4 billion, saying the city and the state illegally took its lands away. It's a lot of land, but more importantly, there's a lot of water under that land. If an appeal fails, the judge's order leaves the Tiguas another option: They can refile the suit and put their legal claim more clearly. The Tiguas are also fighting an unrelated legal battle with the state over their Speaking Rock casino in Far West Texas. The state says it's illegal; the Tiguas say it's not.

• Not so fast, there. The City of Houston's fight over affirmative action isn't over, even though the city lost the latest round in court. All the Texas Supreme Court said in its new ruling is that the challenge by Edward Blum was justified. Now it goes back to the trial court. The mess started when Blum collected signatures for the stated purpose of stopping discrimination in city hiring and contracting. Then-Mayor Bob Lanier and the city council flipped the wording, so that voters actually were asked whether they wanted to end affirmative action for women and minorities. Voters rejected that idea. Blum sued and lost, appealed and lost, appealed and won. A new hearing is set for late this month, but Blum's lawyers don't think they have time to get on this November's ballot.

• The Internet gives you access to all kinds of things you didn't know existed, and that you didn't know you needed. The newest one that we're aware of is from the Texas Education Agency, famous for one- or two-inch-thick agendas for the State Board of Education. If you need it, you need it, and we won't judge you too harshly for getting it online at http://www.tea.state.tx.us. Click on "Commissioner and the SBOE" at the bottom, then on meeting schedules, and um, enjoy yourself. The agency also includes explanations of items on the agenda, and dense as the material can be, it often hides items of financial or political interest.

Political People and Their Moves

Add Center businessman and school board member Bob Reeves to the Republican side of the charter in SD 3, the seat now held by Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Center. He's hired Todd Smith as general consultant and Brian Berry to do media for that race... Gov. Bush tapped Thomas Gossett of San Angelo as the first judge of the 391st District Court there. That court comes into being in October. Gossett is a private attorney. He was previously an assistant district attorney, and he taught media law at Angelo State University. He'll have to run in the next election, and the appointment is subject to Senate confirmation... Bush appointed five people to the state's Board of Medical Examiners, which is supposed to make sure doctors in Texas stay on the straight and narrow. They are Dr. Jose Benavides of San Antonio, a professor at the UT Health Science center there; Dr. David Garza of Laredo, president of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association; Dr. Joyce Roberts of Mt. Vernon, a practicing physician who is also on the Franklin County Child Protective Board; Paulette Southard of Alice, a partner in a real estate company; and Nancy Selinger of Amarillo, a recruiting coordinator for a law firm... The empty general counsel and chief disciplinary officer's chairs at the State Bar of Texas are now occupied by Dawn Miller, who had been number two in the general counsel's office. Steve Young left the post earlier this year, and the Bar has decided to hire a separate disciplinary lawyer. Miller will serve as interim until the two posts are filled... Austin-based Stanford Research hires Sara Dombroff to run the political research firm's Washington, DC, office. She did some research for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut in the last cycle, and worked at the AFL-CIO's Center for Strategic Research... Chrissy Camacho, a legislative aide who most recently worked for Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has signed on as campaign manager for Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a Bush appointee who is seeking a full term.

Quotes of the Week

Private investigator Larry Preston Williams, a former lawyer and cop whose work includes research for political campaigns in Louisiana: "The number of cases has picked up in recent years. The aggressiveness has picked up. The willingness to use information publicly to simply obliterate the opposition forever has increased."

Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike Cox, on why state police are acting as bodyguards for Gov. George W. Bush when he is out of state campaigning for President: "All I can say is that we are providing security for him like we have every Texas governor since 1935. And obviously, at this point, there is additional travel involved as part of that."

GOP National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, on First Lady Hillary Clinton's use of Air Force planes to go back and forth to New York, where she's running for Senate: "It does not look right; it does not smell right; she should reimburse."

Jim Bath, a Texas Air National Guard pilot with Bush, on whether the skids were greased for the son of then-U.S. Rep. George Bush: "In Texas, we're knee-deep in sons of the great. But they don't get a free ride because of who their dad was. It gets you the opening. But after that, you have to perform."

Airline pilot Douglas Solberg, who was also in the Texas Air National Guard with Bush, on their job of sitting on 'alert' to guard against an invasion of Texas oilfields and refineries: "It's kind of a non-threatening way to do your military, get paid well for some long shifts and feel good about your own involvement. It was a cushy way to be a patriot."

Larry Makinson of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, on Bush's fundraising success: "The money is speaking so loud, so early, that it may speak louder than voters. This thing may be decided long before Iowa and New Hampshire."

GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer, on Bush's $36 million-plus bankroll: "At the end of the day, ideas matter. If money was all it took, we'd be ending the second Perot Administration."

Gov. Bush, getting ahead of himself in California: "This is not my first trip to this incredible land called Silicon Valley. But it's my first trip as president of the United States."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 2, 12 July 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.