- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

President-elect George W. Bush today will nominate longtime friend and campaign chairman Don Evans as commerce secretary and anti-Castro Cuban native Mel Martinez to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Republican sources confirmed yesterday that Mr. Bush will nominate Mr. Evans, head of a Denver-based oil and natural gas company, and Mr. Martinez, chairman of the Orange County, Fla., governing board, at a ceremony in Austin.

"And Coats won't be far behind," a Bush insider said of former Sen. Daniel R. Coats of Indiana, the leading candidate for defense secretary.

After completing a whirlwind 48-hour visit to Washington, Mr. Bush was forced to sit through a snowstorm delay at Washington Dulles International Airport yesterday afternoon before returning to Austin, Texas, last night.

In addition to making more Cabinet announcements today, he is scheduled to meet with religious leaders about welfare reform. Also, Mr. Bush is to meet today with Montana Gov. Mark Racicot, a prominent supporter in the campaign who is being considered for attorney general.

"Racicot looks like he's got it," said one Republican on the Bush team, who cautioned that a final decision had not been made. Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating also is interested in the job.

Also, a Republican source said yesterday that California agriculture director Ann Veneman is all but certain to be nominated as agriculture secretary. The transition team has assigned her an aide to field media calls, considered a sure sign that she will get the job.

Mr. Bush interviewed her in Washington on Monday. Sources in the Republican Party told the Associated Press last night that her nomination will come today as well.

Tomorrow, Mr. Bush is expected to resign as Texas governor and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, will take the oath of office to replace him, the Austin-American Statesman reported. The president-elect also will confer tomorrow in Austin with a bipartisan delegation from Congress about his education agenda.

The selection of Mr. Evans, a Bush confidant for more than 25 years, had been expected for weeks. Mr. Evans, 54, has raised money for all of Mr. Bush's political campaigns since 1978 and has been at his side at defining moments of the president-elect's life, including a small-aircraft flight years ago that nearly killed both men.

The plane threatened to stall, Mr. Bush regained control and landed, and a close friendship became even closer.

Mr. Evans is intensely loyal to Mr. Bush. His wife, Susan, has known Mr. Bush since they attended elementary school together in Midland, Texas.

Mr. Evans was with Mr. Bush on the night in 1986 when Mr. Bush drank too much alcohol and decided never to drink again. Mr. Bush credits his friend with getting him in touch with religion by convincing him to read the Bible in its entirety, a little at a time.

"It's like when Laura is around," Mr. Bush once said. "I view him as somebody who knows me well, is not afraid to give me his opinion, has my best interest at heart."

Mr. Evans is a sports nut and a six-handicapper in golf who says of his childhood in Texas, "The only communication I had with the outside world was listening to the St. Louis Cardinals' baseball games as a kid on the radio."

The choice of Mr. Martinez, 54, is more of a surprise.

"Who?" asked an aide yesterday who has worked on the Bush campaign all year.

Mr. Martinez was co-chairman of Mr. Bush's campaign in Florida but is not well-known outside the state, where he became an ally of Gov. Jeb Bush, the president-elect's brother.

"He's a devout Catholic, he's been a rising star in Florida politics and is very highly regarded by Jeb Bush," said one Republican on the Bush team.

Mr. Martinez, who fled Cuba at age 15, played a prominent role earlier this year in the Elian Gonzalez saga when he called on the Clinton administration to allow the Cuban boy's U.S. relatives to keep him in America.

Sources said social conservatives would be delighted with a Cabinet that includes Mr. Martinez, Mr. Racicot, Mr. Keating and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, all of whom are pro-life. New Jersey's pro-choice governor, Christine Todd Whitman, is believed to have the inside track on U.S. trade representative.

"They're trying to find someplace where she won't be objectionable to conservatives," a Republican source said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush plans to meet with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders today in Austin to discuss ways for Americans to increase charitable donations. Mr. Bush views such a move as an essential element of reforming the welfare system, said transition spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Among those who are to attend are the Rev. Herman Lusk, a Baptist preacher from Philadelphia; the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former Democratic congressman from New York; Tony Evans, a Dallas minister; Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Methodist minister from Houston and friend of Mr. Bush; and former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.

Mr. Bush "views this as the next step in welfare reform," the spokesman said. The president-elect has said religious groups are better suited than the government to handle many social services.

Mr. Fleischer acknowledged that Mr. Bush's approach is not typical for the federal government.

"Get used to it," Mr. Fleischer said. "This is how he's going to govern."

On Friday, Mr. Bush will talk with representatives of all sectors of the agricultural community.

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