Texas Gov. George W. Bush said today that experience in Washington is "no advantage" in the presidential race, and insisted that his six years as the chief executive in Texas have been better preparation than any of his rivals can boast.
At a news conference the morning after a televised debate in which one of them, Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, suggested Bush might need seasoning in the vice president's job before he was ready to be No. 1, Bush responded that all of his opponents seemed to acknowledge that the Washington part of their resumes "wasn't very attractive or conducive to being the nominee. If you listened carefully, everybody was attacking Washington last night. Well, I'm the one person who's been a chief executive outside of Washington."
Bush said he regarded Hatch's appraisal of his talents as "a funny exchange."
Hatch and Arizona Sen. John McCain are veterans of Capitol Hill, and the other three--publisher Steve Forbes, conservative activist Gary Bauer and talk show host Alan Keyes--have served as executive branch appointees.
As he campaigned here today for the Feb. 22 Arizona primary, where polls show him within striking range of McCain, Bush continued to praise the man who is presenting the stiffest challenge in New Hampshire's leadoff primary. In response to a question, Bush said McCain's reported temper problems are "not an issue for me at all. I've campaigned for him and now I'm campaigning against him, and I've never seen his temper. I like him. He's a good guy."
Bush said he regarded himself as the underdog in Arizona because McCain is "a very popular senator." But Bush was introduced at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning by his own top Arizona supporter, Gov. Jane Hull, whose son Mike is running the Bush campaign here.
On other issues, Bush:
* Defended his support of free trade but said last week's protesters in Seattle were on sound ground in complaining that the World Trade Organization's decision-making should be "more open." He said environmental and labor standards could be discussed in trade talks, but "I'm not going to allow labor and environmental codicils to scuttle free trade. I'm a free trader."
* Said he welcomed the Supreme Court review of the Miranda ruling, requiring that arrested persons be informed of their right to remain silent or consult a lawyer before being questioned by police, because "if a confession is truly voluntary, it ought to be considered."
* Insisted there is no contradiction in his demand for accountability in federal education spending and his opposition to national testing of students. "I expect there to be results" when Washington supplies funds, but the standards and measurements should be set locally.
* Said "obviously we need to review the Mars program," NASA's trouble-plagued exploration effort, to examine its costs and its problems.
Continuing an exchange with Forbes from last night's debate, Bush insisted that the recent spike in oil prices does not justify any consideration of government price controls. But he said that tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to offset tighter production controls imposed by the OPEC countries is "an option we should consider."
Forbes has said he would consider using part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supply. But Bush's responses were still not satisfactory for Forbes.
"Here's a man who has spent much of his professional life in the oil industry, yet he clearly has no energy policy, either short term or long term," Forbes said today in an interview with Reuters.
CAPTION: Texas Gov. George W. Bush ponders a question at Phoenix news conference.