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bush as governor

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In 1994 George Bush ran against popular incumbent Ann Richards and defeated her, largely due to the mass movement in the 1990s of Texas Democrats to the Republican Party. Bush won a second term in 1998. Commenting on Bush's record and leadership style as governor are Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who met several times with then-Governor Bush, and Wayne Slater who has reported on George W. Bush for over a decade. These excerpts are drawn from their FRONTLINE interviews.

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wayne slater
Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News.

…What George Bush does as governor is, [he] finds himself in an interesting point. He's surrounded by Democrats by and large, although more and more Republicans are going to be in office. Still, the lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate's a Democrat. The House and Senate are Democrat. He's the governor. So he has to work with these Democrats in a way.

Many of these Democrats like the education ideas that Ann Richards has espoused. So George Bush picks up on those and adds his own spin, in effect, presses the issue of accountability. In fact, that's what we see now in the "No Child Left Behind" in presidential years. It started right here in Texas.

He pushes these ideas which in effect were part of Ann Richards' ideas, and made them his own. He understood that, in Texas, the most important thing for the voters who are most likely to vote for him is that their kids' schools are good schools, that their kids are getting the best education possible, that the schools are well funded and that their kids are prepared for college.

He takes on the issue of education as one of a very small number of issues, which is a mark of Bush -- only tackle a few things, and tackle them with intensity. He's very, very successful in emerging as the education governor.

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But is he the education governor?

The interesting thing about Bush is he pressed the issue of education in a way that-- I'm not saying it's false, that he didn't believe it, but in a way that it was really others who really laid the groundwork for him. It was a whole history of moving toward accountability in education. It was a whole history of people who wanted to put money into education.

In fact, George Bush's biggest defeat as governor was on education, although most people don't know this, even in Texas. He pressed this extraordinary plan -- which is really an excellent plan in the minds of many people -- to put more money in our kids' schools by lowering property taxes and raising other ways of raising money. It was something that his political consultants and around him said, "Don't do. It's political dynamite."

But he did anyway. He saw himself as the education governor. In order to become the education governor, he had to do something big, something extraordinary. He had to, at one point he told me, "Spend the political capital that I'd gained in order to do something that's truly meaningful. That is to lower property taxes dramatically and put real money and change the education system of Texas."

He failed, and he failed in part because the plan that he pushed -- which ultimately was redone by allies in the legislature, Paul Sadler being the most important one of those -- failed with his own Republicans in the House and Senate. ...

What kind of governor was he? What were his work habits?

... He was an extraordinary popular governor, in part because he was so personable. That works at a state level. …

He was a very diligent person. I can remember that, shortly after he was elected as governor, you go right into a legislative session. Worked very hard in the legislative session. Between legislative sessions, the governor has very little to do, actually, in a place like Texas, where it's not really a strong governor state. So a friend of his, who was working on the staff, was in his office one day. Bush asked, "Now what do we do?" And the guy said, "Well, you don't do anything. Because between legislative sessions, you make a few appointments. You meet with some people. There's almost nothing to do."

He didn't want that at all. He really actively began to talk about working ideas. That's when he began first to talk about taxes inside. Changing education. Defining who he was. He was a very active governor.

Some of his habits are that he is absolutely, precisely on time. The mansion is across the street from the Capitol. So he would arrive, sometimes walk, sometimes be driven by his security detail, at exactly the same time. Whether it was 7:00 in the morning or it was 7:15, he was right there.

He would work straight through the morning, a series of meetings and so forth. His meetings are 15-minute meetings. As governor, he never liked hour-long meetings.

When you gather people around him, he did exactly as governor what he does as president. He surrounds himself with a very small group of people he trusts, whose instincts he regards well, whose ideas he'll consider. And rather than read big long memos, he wants one page.

Rather than hear 15 minutes of recommendations, he wants to hear a minute. He wants to hear from a series of people, "What do you think? What do we do about this issue? What do we do?" He distills from those ideas what his decision is. He makes a decision, and moves on. …

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grover norquist
President of Americans for Tax Reform

…There is the conventional wisdom which is that George W. Bush was a moderate governor of Texas, who ran as a moderate presidential candidate in 2000, and now we see that he's a real conservative. Did he change?

Bush in Texas was hampered by the Democratic House of Representatives. You had a Republican Senate, Democratic House of Representatives. He fought for Concealed Carry [weapons] laws to allow everybody to carry a gun. And he won those. He fought for school choice, and didn't win because of the Democrats. He fought for tax cuts. He fought for deregulation. He fought for tort reform.

Everything that you see in his presidential administration were issues he fought for publicly and repeatedly -- sometimes winning, sometimes thwarted at the state level. His [2000] campaign was as transparent and as clear about where he was going as it could possibly be. …

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posted oct. 12, 2004

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