Bush depends on loyalty, relationships to make his different style of governing work
By TIM NICKENS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Texas state Sen. Ken Armbrister couldn't believe it.
Three weeks after the 1994 election, the Democrat answered the telephone and heard a man identify himself as George W. Bush.
"I thought, "Which one of my crazy friends is this, putting a joke on me?' " Armbrister recalled.
But it was the new Republican governor of Texas, asking the legislator for an appointment. And when they met, Armbrister said, "at the end of the conversation, he said, "I am not a guy for labels. I hope I can call on you for help.' "
On the road to Tuesday's election, Bush emphasizes his willingness to reach out to members of both parties even while promising Republicans in Congress, "Help is on the way."
That is just one example of the apparent contradictions in Bush's approach to governing -- and there is no guarantee that the personal charm that worked for the son of the former president in Austin would work in Washington.
He relies on personal relationships, yet it is hard to imagine a president forging such close ties with members of such a partisan Congress.
He lists Ronald Reagan as his favorite president other than his father and welcomes comparisons of his tax cuts to Reagan's. But while Bush and Reagan share a lack of interest in the details of public policy and exude a certain personal warmth, Bush does not share the Great Communicator's oratorical skills.
Bush also likes to portray himself as a bolder leader than Vice President Al Gore. He says at rallies that he is willing to stick with his massive tax cuts even in the face of criticism from "pundits," and that he tackled a controversial overhaul of Social Security despite warnings from consultants that it would be politically risky.
Yet Bush's Texas record is filled with successes on issues that already had bold support, such as education and welfare reform. His most ambitious legislative effort, a dramatic overhaul of the tax structure in 1997, failed because lawmakers from his party failed to support him.
But rather than go down to defeat in defending a principle, Bush cut a deal with legislators that led to another enormous, straightforward tax cut.
Bush is expected to stick with the same approach in Washington that he has used in Austin:
Focus on a few big issues, including some that are in the pipeline.
Establish broad goals but leave the specifics to others.
Compromise to achieve victory and avoid confrontations that could produce losses.
In his first legislative session, Bush focused on four major issues that he brought from his 1994 campaign: education, juvenile justice, welfare and tort reform.
Those issues were being addressed in some form by the Legislature, and Bush worked with members of both parties in 1995 to pass major legislation in all those areas, along with a record tax cut.
"George W. Bush is not Bill Clinton," Republican Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins said at a forum sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts examining how Bush might govern. "He is not a detail-oriented, policy-wonk kind of a guy . . . and (what the media views) as disinterest in issues, I see as incredible political discipline. George W. Bush looks at the state of Texas, figures out what he thinks are the foremost important issues facing the state, and that's all he talked about in the campaign, and what were the four major bills that passed his first session? Those four issues. He's said, oftentimes, he doesn't want to waste political capital on issues that he doesn't believe are the top priority."
In his presidential campaign, Bush has similarly focused on a handful of issues and hammered away at them regardless of the criticism.
"One of the things I've done in Texas is I've been able to put together a good team of people," Bush said in the second debate. "I've been able to set clear goals. The goals are to be an education system that leaves no child behind, Medicare for our seniors, a Social Security system that's safe and secure, foreign policy that's in our nation's interests, and a strong military."
He has strayed from those goals and his tax cuts only once. In early September, Bush proposed his prescription drug plan for seniors just as Gore was turning up the heat on the issue.
Whether Bush would meet with as much success in Washington as he has in Texas is open to debate. There are many more issues and personalities to juggle in the nation's capital.
Much of Bush's initial success in Texas can be traced to the strong relationship he formed with Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a legendary figure in state politics. Bullock, who died last year, wielded more power than the governor and helped guide the inexperienced Bush through the legislative maze.
There are no guarantees that Bush would find a similar mentor in Congress. He has distanced himself from the more doctrinaire Republicans, including conservative Reps. Dick Armey and Tom DeLay from his home state. And if Democrats win enough seats to take control of the House, it is doubtful Richard Gephardt and other leaders of that party would be eager to make a new Republican in the White House look good.
As president, Bush also would have far more issues to manage than he has as governor. The Texas governor's office is one of the weakest in the nation. Unlike Florida's governor, the Texas chief executive does not even propose a state budget. The Texas legislature meets just every other year and approves a biennial budget, a concept Bush would like to apply to the annual federal budget process.
When Bush was asked during a debate to name a moment when he took strong leadership, the best example he could come up with was comforting victims of brush fires. But after Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman said last week that Bush is too inexperienced to be president, Bush reminded listeners at a California rally that the same criticism was leveled at another governor who ran for president.
In the Bush family, loyalty is the most prized quality. Being called "a good man" by former President Bush or the governors of Texas or Florida is the ultimate compliment.
While Gore has switched campaign managers and advisers more than once, Bush has kept the same core together from Texas and resisted occasional pleas from Washington Republicans to bring in hired guns.
The members of the iron triangle have been Bush's closest aides for years: campaign consultant Karl Rove, the short, blonde political guru who learned at the knee of the late Lee Atwater and worked for Bush's father at the Republican National Committee; campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, Bush's former chief of staff who rarely speaks to the media and has the broad shoulders and close-cropped hair of an old linebacker; and communications director Karen Hughes, a former television reporter who ghost-wrote Bush's autobiography last summer after a more seasoned author was replaced.
Another close friend and confidant is Donald Evans, chairman of an oil-and-gas company who goes back to Bush's oil business days in Midland, Texas. Evans started out as the finance chairman behind the campaign's record-breaking fundraising, then became campaign chairman in April.
The loyalty goes both ways.
When Bush was soundly beaten by John McCain in the New Hampshire primary, there was considerable pressure to replace the Texas trio with operatives more seasoned in presidential politics. Instead Bush privately reassured them their jobs were safe and relied on them to turn it around.
Which they did, of course.
It was Hughes who came up with a slogan to combat McCain in South Carolina while she was driving in her car in Austin. "A Reformer with Results." And it was Hughes and another campaign aide who came up with a slogan when Bush faltered a bit in the fall, "Real Plans for Real People."
Mark McKinnon, Bush's chief campaign advertising strategist, said Bush has approached his campaign in the same manner he has governed.
"He sets the broad goals, the vision he wants to talk about, and expects us to execute," said McKinnon, a former Democrat who was won over by Bush's charm and interest in education.
Hughes and Allbaugh would be expected to accompany Bush to Washington. Rove would remain an outside political consultant, although some Republicans expect him to wind up the Republican National Committee. But McKinnon said he won't be moving to Washington. After the long campaign, he said, "I'm going to sleep."
Bush often emphasizes that voters on Tuesday will be electing more than one man when they cast their ballots. He says they will be electing a team.
"A responsible leader sets a clear agenda and brings people together to achieve it," he said at a rally in Pittsburgh in October, with retired Gen. Colin Powell at his side. "A leader accepts responsibility and is willing to share credit. A leader stands on principle. And a good leader's predictable. He doesn't try to be all things to all people or . . . he doesn't change personalities, say, for a different debate. Leaders get things done, and they realize they cannot do it alone so they surround themselves with good people and build a strong team."
Bush, asked a question about who would be on his team during a forum in New Hampshire in October, said he was "reluctant to name names" -- and then did just that.
In addition to Dick Cheney, his running mate, the Texas governor mentioned Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Larry Lindsey. Colin Powell is believed to be Bush's choice for secretary of state. Rice is his chief foreign policy adviser. Lindsey is his chief economic adviser. Americans also could expect to see plenty of Hughes, his communications director, who likely would assume a similar role in the White House.
Among the Floridians whose names have popped up for potential appointments: Rep. Tillie Fowler of Jacksonville for a defense post or secretary of the Department of Transportation; Rep. Porter Goss of Sanibel, a former CIA agent, for a CIA position; and David Struhs, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who also worked in George Bush's administration, for a top job at the Environmental Protection Agency.
But it is impossible to predict how Bush would fill many key appointments.
Bush often says he is concerned about the environment and has vowed to continue the government's efforts to restore the Everglades. He supports the moratorium on oil drilling off Florida's coasts, although he is less direct about how he would deal with existing leases.
Yet environmental problems in Texas, such as Houston's air pollution problems, have been well chronicled. Bush has supported legislation in Texas that offers incentives to industrial polluters to voluntarily reduce their emissions. He endorses opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, and his environmental policies have been criticized by several environmental groups.
Bush also has been intentionally vague about the guidelines he would follow to nominate Supreme Court justices. He says he would not impose a litmus test, which is a nod to abortion rights activists who fear a court dominated by Bush appointees would overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. But Bush also says he favors "strict constructionists" of the U.S. Constitution who would not try to legislate from the bench. That heartens abortion rights opponents, who view the terminology as code for appointing justices who would overturn a woman's right to an abortion.
As governor, Bush has appointed moderate judges to the state Supreme Court. But when he said his two favorite current U.S. Supreme Court justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the court's most active conservatives, that brought more smiles to social conservatives and more frowns from abortion rights activists.
Here are some of the people who might be considered for various positions in a Bush Cabinet:
SECRETARY OF STATE: Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University scholar and foreign policy adviser to Bush.
DEFENSE: Paul Wolfowitz, dean of international studies at Johns Hopkins University and former undersecretary of defense for policy; Richard Perle, defense braintruster at the American Enterprise Institute and assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration; Richard Armitage, ambassador to the newly independent Soviet states and served at State and Defense under President Bush.
TREASURY: Larry Lindsey, Bush's main economic adviser, economic adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, Federal Reserve governor; Donald Marron, who runs the PaineWebber brokerage house; John Cogan, Stanford University economist and adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush.
JUSTICE: Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who was No. 3 at Justice during Bush's father's administration; Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; and Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: American Red Cross president Bernadine Healy; Gail Wilensky, who helped craft Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan and directed health care financing in his father's administration; Bill Roper, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina and former director of the CDC.
EDUCATION: Rod Paige, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District; Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; Colorado Gov. Bill Owens; Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction. Also, a possible Democrat in Bush's cabinet: former Dallas Democratic Party chairman Sandy Kress, who has been an informal adviser.
AGRICULTURE: Texas Rep. Charles Stenholm, a conservative Democrat who could lose his seat when Texas is redistricted; Ann Veneman, former agricultural commissioner in California and a senior Agriculture Department official in the Bush administration; Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; and Charles Kruse, a Missouri farmer and former state agriculture commissioner.
COMMERCE: Don Evans, an oil executive and long-time Bush friend.
EPA: David Struhs, director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Chris DeMuth, a regulatory expert at the American Enterprise Institute; and Russell Harding, head of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.
INTERIOR: Montana Gov. Marc Racicot; Washington Sen. Slade Gorton.
ENERGY: Gov. Racicot; Tom Kuhn, a Bush buddy from Yale who is head of the Edison Electric Institute and was 1996 GOP convention chairman; Kenneth Lay, chairman of the giant gas and energy company Enron. -- Associated Press