- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

DALLAS — As thousands of Texans descend on Washington to celebrate the second inauguration of President Bush, many here recall how unimaginable this all seemed a little more than a decade ago.

Though Mr. Bush probably is better known than any other American these days, his name was not recognized that readily in 1994, even in Texas.

If his name came up at all, it often was in relation to his genteel father, George H.W. Bush, who had recently left the White House after a distinguished career in American politics and public service.

Early on, the younger Mr. Bush had been active in various petroleum-related businesses, but little more than a decade ago, he was immersed in baseball as the managing partner of the Texas Rangers.

Several things coalesced about that time that would enable Mr. Bush to move further in a decade than almost any American politician before him.

First, a relatively small investment in the Rangers turned into more than $12 million for Mr. Bush when the team was sold, so although he was financially secure, he was unemployed, looking for a challenge.

Texas Republicans, angry about legislative issues pushed by a Democrat-controlled Legislature and particularly upset at Democratic Gov. Ann Richards for her backing of the controversial “Robin Hood” plan for funding state schools — in which rich school districts were forced to share with poor ones — suddenly “discovered” the young Mr. Bush.

Here was a man, they envisioned, who was the product of a family as revered as any in American politics.

Yet early on, even in Republican ranks, some doubted that the 41st president’s son had the right stuff.

“He’s arrogant, never been a successful businessman and has no political experience,” one wealthy Dallas investment banker told a local reporter, adding, “and there’s no way he can beat Ann Richards.”

That was the first big hurdle.

Mrs. Richards was ensconced in the Governor’s Mansion in Austin and running for re-election. She had been a keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, where she had taunted the Bushes with disparaging comments describing the elder Mr. Bush, who was running against Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

“And now that he’s after a job he can’t get appointed to,” she said, “he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found child care. He’s found education. Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

Some claim that the younger Mr. Bush never forgave Mrs. Richards for those remarks, even though his father soundly defeated Mr. Dukakis. Some will say today that that 1988 insult was a factor in Mr. Bush’s entering the race against her.

No matter what influenced Mr. Bush in 1994, those who doubted the fledgling politician’s chances didn’t reckon with his resolve and staying power.

“He really wanted it — and it was apparent,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock said later at an Austin function. “You could see him becoming more confident. And the voters obviously saw that and liked it.”

From the onset, Mr. Bullock, the most powerful politician in Texas at that time, would play an integral part in the maturation and success of the new governor.

“We didn’t always agree,” Mr. Bullock later recalled, “but he made it clear what his intentions were, to better the lives of the people of Texas. I couldn’t always go along with him, but that was my reason for serving here, too, so most of it came very easily.”

Mr. Bullock had been an institution in Texas politics for two generations. As lieutenant governor and head of the state Senate — with a Democratic power base firmly down the line — he single-handedly could determine what legislation made it and what didn’t.

Mr. Bush, aware that he must work carefully with the Democratic leadership to get any of his proposals considered seriously, moved deliberately. He met with Mr. and Mrs. Bullock at their home in fall 1994.

Tom Pauken, a Dallas lawyer who was state Republican Party chairman in the mid-1990s, said the “courting” of Mr. Bullock was one of Mr. Bush’s smartest moves.

“George W. effectively courted him, and Bush got credit for the legislative changes that took place, but essentially it was Bullock’s substantive policy that got things passed,” Mr. Pauken added.

By the time Mr. Bush demolished liberal Gary Mauro, 69 percent to 31 percent, to win a second gubernatorial term in 1998, those around Mr. Bush had begun scoping out the national scene. Soon, Republicans of all stripes were traveling to Austin to urge Mr. Bush to consider running for president.

The young governor obviously relished the attention.

“By the fall of 1997, I couldn’t get on an elevator or walk through the back of a hotel kitchen on the way to make a speech without someone saying, ‘Governor, please run for president,’” Mr. Bush wrote in his book “A Charge to Keep.”

He was running for a second term in Austin and had an agenda he considered important. Many times, his staff and he measured how an early announcement to run for president might affect him.

He knew that to enter officially could be a distinct advantage for raising money and might dissuade other candidates from entering. However, it also might overshadow what he wanted to get accomplished in the Legislature. They decided to wait until after he won re-election.

In early March 1999, he set up a committee to “explore the concept,” as he put it, but many closest to him knew the decision was already made.

Where this Connecticut-born, Andover- and Yale-educated gentleman fits in the Texas scheme of things remains debatable. Some will never quite admit that a person is really a Texan unless his or her forefathers fought at the Alamo or knew most of those who did.

“That confident walk, the assured grin — some call it a smirk — that’s Texas all the way,” said Harvey, a recent caller to a Houston talk show. “That means ‘I’ve got it under control.’ And I think that kind of assurance is what Americans need today.”

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