Bush’s Hit Man

Bush’s Dilemma

The governor has been admirably tough on men who beat women. So how will he handle accusations of spousal abuse against one of his media consultants?

Since arriving at the governor’s mansion, George W. and Laura Bush have won effusive praise for speaking out on the issue of violence against women. The governor, for instance, provided “critical” leadership on the stalking bill that passed this legislative session, says executive director Donna Medley of the Austin-based Texas Council on Family Violence; the first lady, meanwhile, sits on the Center for Battered Women’s Foundation Board and donated a $10,000 prize she received from the Texas Medical Association to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It’s an undeniably impressive record—so impressive, in fact, that it’s about to put the Bushes in a sticky political situation. In the September-October issue of Mother Jones, contributing editor Richard Blow reports that Donald Sipple, a top GOP media consultant who worked on the governor's 1994 campaign and also worked for President George Bush’s last campaign, was accused by his two ex-wives during a 1992 child custody case of “physically” abusing them “on more than one occasion” and that the abuse was the reason they “left Don.” The article quotes from court papers and depositions as well as friends and relatives of Sipple’s ex-wives, including some prominent Republicans, and is accompanied by a photo of Sipple’s first wife after an alleged beating in 1977. Sipple categorically denies the charges, calling them the by-product of a bitter custody fight that he ultimately won; he also disputes the authenticity of the photo. What is Governor Bush’s reaction to the flap over Sipple—who created a tough-on-crime TV ad for him in 1994 that began with a woman being attacked? “Don assures us that the allegations are not true,” insists Bush’s communications director, Karen Hughes, who says she found Sipple to be a “good and decent man” when she worked with him on the 1994 campaign. “He feels the story is libelous and plans to sue Mother Jones.” (Indeed, Sipple’s lawyer has sent the magazine an eight-page letter detailing numerous alleged inaccuracies and demanding a retraction.) So the governor’s working relationship with Sipple will continue? Bush is beginning to assemble his 1998 campaign organization, Hughes replies, and “is looking at using the same team as in 1994.”

Deep in the Gephardt of Texas

Austin has long been a mecca for the children of famous people, from the daughters of newsman Walter Cronkite, comedienne Roseanne, and presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the sons of writer Larry McMurtry and economist James K. Galbraith. Now the list of celebrity scions has grown. In early August Matthew Gephardt, the only son of U.S. House minority leader Richard Gephardt, moved to Austin and started a high-tech company. AIM Technologies constructs interactive kiosks that allow sports venues to collect demographic information about their patrons. “It’s kind of a frequent-fan program,” explains the 26-year-old Gephardt. “You receive a card, you swipe it at the kiosk, and you earn points toward things like free tickets.” Gephardt says he chose Austin because of the city’s “good high-tech labor pool,” but don’t expect him to stay forever: His father may well run for president again, which means he’ll hit the campaign trail—at least part-time—in about two years.

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