Another Bush Administration?
By David S. Broder
Just back from a run, still in his jogging shorts and a sweaty T-shirt, Texas Gov. George W. Bush was sprawled on a couch in the condo he used during the Republican Governors Association meeting here last weekend laid-back but still very much in command.
Before either Terry Neal of The Washington Post or this reporter could open his mouth, Bush declared, "I have nothing to say about running for president. So what can I tell you?"
There was no hostility in the voice just a simple setting of the ground rules. It is what a very confident, un-self-conscious politician can do. That is what the former president's son has become three years after being elected to his first public office, and it is why, three years from now, he may have as good a chance at being elected president as any Republican you can name.
Two losses in his early career his father's reelection defeat and the rejection of his own tax-reform plan have left their marks on the 51-year-old Bush.
"November '91 to November '92" when President Bush tumbled from the height of his Persian Gulf popularity to defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton "was the most miserable year of my life," the governor remarked. The lesson learned: Take nothing for granted in politics.
Bush is an overwhelming favorite for reelection next year. He has already stockpiled $13 million for the race. His lead in the latest Texas Poll over the near-certain Democratic nominee, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, is 68 percent to 16 percent.
Nonetheless, Bush was spending his spare moments here working with aides on his Dec. 3 reelection announcement and on details of the 24-city swing he will take during the following six days. "Got to show them I want the job," he said.
His goals are large. "I'd like to see Republicans win every statewide office," Bush said. Electing Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry as lieutenant governor would make it much easier for Bush to pursue the presidency in 2000. Electing Tony Garza, his appointee as secretary of state, as land commissioner would further enhance Bush's standing with Latino voters an increasingly crucial national constituency and a worrisome one for Republicans.
He has a plan. "If my voter turnout machine can produce an extra 400,000 votes by targeting the fast-growing suburban counties," the governor said, "they are likely to go right down the ballot."
He has told his constituents he will not decide whether to seek the presidency until the legislature finishes in the spring of 1999. But if George W. leads a GOP sweep in Texas next November and brother Jeb simultaneously wins in his second try for the Florida governorship, where he is an early favorite over Democratic Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay, the Bush name will be on many Republican lips going into 2000. Republican governors who virtually lifted Bob Dole to the nomination after his early stumbles in 1996 would like to have one of their own leading the ticket. And no one is more popular in their club than the governor of Texas.
All of which gives Bush more than an outside chance of being the next president and makes his reaction to his other defeat significant. The legislature that for three years did his bidding on most other issues last spring defeated his big tax reform plan. Although he did get a $1 billion property tax cut, the lawmakers rejected a half-cent increase in the sales tax and a restructuring of business taxes that would have helped small companies while raising levies on many big firms that now pay little or nothing.
Bush still believes he was right that the emerging service industries need to pay more of the costs of government, and homeowners less. But the "bold initiatives" he promises for his reelection campaign and second term will not include tax reform, he says, even if he should win big.
He has his rationale: The booming economy, the $1 billion tax cut and a boost in the state's share of education financing have made it easier for people to pay their property taxes.
But the main lesson, he said, is that "I tried to get the legislature to be proactive, to do now what I know we're going to be forced to do within five years, and they [the legislators] wouldn't do it. . . . The status quo prevailed. The reality is you are not going to whip people into change. I learned that legislators have a two-year perspective."
That is a lesson an inhibiting lesson, if you please that this Bush would carry into the White House.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company