How W. Can Lose

By being wrong on the issues women care about, says Ann Richards. By being smug and shallow, says Jim Hightower. We asked these and other Texas Democrats to make the case against George Bush. Boy, did they ever.

Ann Richards Illustration by Philip BurkeJohn Sharp

“Having been the comptroller of public accounts, a railroad commissioner, a state senator, and a member of the House, I know what everyone at the Capitol knows: The governor doesn’t have that much to do with what happens. Bob Bullock wanted welfare reform, so we passed it. Pete Laney wanted children’s health insurance, so we passed it. Everyone at the Capitol knows, whether they’ll say it or not, that on school finance, or what have you, the governor is the last person to get a copy of the legislation. This is not Louisiana, where the governor is extremely powerful. In Texas, the governor is the last guy to hear about anything.”Even so, George W. Bush has been a special case. As long as the economy is good, a governor who doesn’t have a hands-on attitude is going to do fine. He can be very popular. Things roll along. He doesn’t have to know about the details of welfare reform or school finance or taxes. All that matters is what the polls say. When there’s a lot of money in the treasury, the governor can pacify everybody. But when the economy goes bad, you’d better not have that kind of governor—and you’d better not have that kind of president. You’d better have someone who knows how to pull the levers of government and get the state, or the country, out of trouble. George may be that kind of governor, but we just don’t know it.”

John Sharp was the comptroller of public accounts from 1991 to 1999 and a railroad commissioner from 1987 to 1991. He is a principal with the Austin office of the accounting firm Ryan and Company.

Ann Richards

“To his credit, George Bush is a disciplined campaigner. He stays on message, and I think that really matters more than anything else. He seemingly does not tire of saying the same thing over and over and over again. If you ask me what time it is, I’m likely to tell you about the history of timekeeping and clock making, about the manufacture of timepieces and other forms of measurement, about the kinds of regulation put in place by the government. If you ask George Bush what time it is, he’ll say, ‘I think Americans have the right to bear arms.’

“He’s very careful in the language he uses. Generally speaking, he never talks about religious programs’ being funded by the government; he talks about faith-based this and faith-based that. He avoids what could be hot buttons. What has happened in Texas since he became governor is that we’ve moved social services to faith-based organizations, we’re moving toward faith-based influence in schools, and we’ve changed the drug-and-alcohol-treatment program so that much of what remains is faith-based. This is a shield and a screen for what is actually taking place, and that is a delivery of influence over every aspect of our lives to the Religious Right.

“I think it’s going to be a very close, very tight race. The polls have no idea what’s going to happen, and neither do I. Ask me two weeks before the election. Americans more and more make up their mind in the last ten days, particularly women. That said, women are going to be a problem for him, and not just because we vote Democratic by and large. We’re enormously concerned about the selection of Supreme Court justices, given the likelihood that the balance on the court could be tipped, and women could be restricted in the choices they make about bearing children. Abortion is going to be a huge issue for us. The gun issue is going to be a big issue. Bush continues to be enthusiastic about the opportunity for people to carry concealed weapons, which I think is dangerous and bad for our kids. The NRA has so much money and so much clout that it’s gonna be really tough, but I think organizations of mothers against gun violence are going to grow. We know all this gun stuff is stupid. I think we’re going to be exercised about it. It took Mothers Against Drunk Driv- ing a while before they had a serious effect, but the numbers are larger here.

“Beyond those issues, what’s hurting Texas are the numbers. When we became a state that voluntarily complied with environmental laws, we couldn’t help but have bad numbers. To be able to stay even with the other states, you have to be really aggressive about getting money available to the state from the federal government. If you fall behind and are not in there fighting for your share, others get it and your numbers drop.

“I guess the part that’s most disturbing is the crowing about cutting taxes while there are still children who don’t have health care. The message is wrong.”

Ann Richards was the governor from 1991 to 1995 and the treasurer from 1983 to 1991. She is a senior adviser to the Washington, D.C., law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson, and Hand.

Garry Mauro

“I’ve never met a politician with less passion about the issues than George W. Bush. I don’t like Phil Gramm, and I don’t like Kay Bailey Hutchison, but I have no doubt in my mind what they care about. I couldn’t tell you anything Bush cares about. I’ve never even seen him get passionate about his own candidacy.

“Because of that lack of passion, he’s willing to change his positions. He has no core. He flip-flops 100 percent because he doesn’t care. Before I announced for governor, his Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission chairman

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...