Welcome home, Mr. President. It’s great to have you back for the Republican convention. How’s it going with you? Things could be better, you say? Well, that’s how it is in Texas. Maybe we could help each other a little. . . .
Let’s be fair about this: George Bush has to worry about the whole country, not just the problems of one state. Still, there is a lot a president can do to help a place he cares about. He can fight for funding major projects that benefit both the state and the country. He can try to solve regional problems with policies that are good for the nation. And he can ease the inevitable bureaucratic snags that every state runs into so that everybody gets fair and equal treatment from his administration. The president can’t be involved in every decision, of course, but he can make it clear to subordinates in the White House and the Cabinet that his home state really matters to him.
Lyndon Johnson understood all this. “People in his administration wanted to help Texas projects,” recalls George Christian, LBJ’s press secretary who now lives in Austin. “They knew that’s what the president wanted.” Of course, times were different then. The economy was good, and the government had money to spend. What the press and the public think of as pork barrel today was thought of as progress in the sixties—space projects, dams, Padre Island National Seashore, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and countless smaller projects, from a regional IRS service center for Austin to a rebuilt Fort Davis in West Texas.
Even allowing for the way government has changed in the quarter-century that separates the two Texas presidents, George Bush’s record for helping Texas is spotty at best. Banking, real estate, and oil—all heavily affected by federal policies, all vital to the state’s economy—remain in the doldrums. The lack of vision and personal commitment that have plagued his entire administration are reflected in his record toward Texas. On the few occasions when he has embraced a policy that matters to Texas—full funding for the supercollider, for example—he hasn’t followed through with speeches and lobbying efforts. Most of the time, Bush’s attitude toward Texas must be judged on the basis of decisions made by subordinates and his own indifference to the consequences. Here’s a look at Texas’ wish list and how little of it has come true.
Science and Technology
Two months ago George Bush was getting high marks from Texas congressmen on both sides of the aisle for keeping the supercollider and the space station in his budget. But that was before the House vote in June to eliminate all funding for the supercollider, which physicists say is the most important high-energy research project in the world. White House lobbyists had promised to deliver at least 105 Republican votes for the project; in fact, GOP lawmakers split, 79—79. The vote to eliminate funding passed by 51 votes. Had the White House delivered the 26 extra votes it promised, that would have been a swing of 52 votes—just enough to keep the supercollider alive. Now it can be saved only if the Senate funds it and persuades House negotiators to go along. Bush has promised to have one-on-one conversations with wavering Republican senators. But where was the telephone at the crucial moment in the House?
Bush’s critics now say that he didn’t do enough to make the project his own. “On issues like technology and energy,” says Democratic congressman Mike Andrews of Houston, “the president has to define national goals and drive a program toward those goals.” The supercollider lost—and the space station is now in jeopardy—because its opponents were able to characterize it as pork barrel for Texas when it should be regarded as scientific research for America.
Bell helicopter’s V-22 Osprey is supposed to be the aircraft of the future. But George Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, has been determined to make it the aircraft of the past.
The tilt-rotor V-22 is designed to take off and land vertically but otherwise fly like an airplane. If perfected, it could carry more passengers at higher speeds for longer distances than any helicopter. This military project is more than a boon for the Fort Worth area; it has obvious long-term civilian benefits. Yet Cheney has done everything in his power to kill it. He has refused to request any money for the V-22, and when Congress funded it anyway, he refused to spend the money. Only when the U.S. comp-troller general declared Cheney’s action illegal and began proceedings to release $790 million did Cheney grudgingly give in. But the credit for keeping the V-22 alive went to Congress, not to George Bush.
Why has Cheney gone to such lengths to eliminate the V-22? A theory prevalent among Texas Democrats in Congress is that Cheney’s animosity for former speaker Jim Wright is behind his animosity for Wright’s onetime pet project.
Part of Lavaca Bay is contaminated with mercury—so badly, in fact, that the state health department won’t let people keep the fish they catch. State officials have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to classify the bay as a Superfund site, a designation that would make it eligible for federal clean-up funds. The EPA is taking its time.
Texas has never gotten its fair share of federal highway trust funds. In fact, it is the biggest loser in the country. Between 1956 and 1990 Texas paid $2.5 billion more into the highway fund (through gasoline taxes) than it got back. California and Florida are other big losers. And who are the winners? New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which together show a “profit” of almost $7 billion during that time.
This is not happenstance. Highway money is distributed according to an enigmatic formula crafted to benefit northeastern states. One factor used in figuring where the money goes is the amount of “postal route miles” in a state. Postal route miles? Whatever they