Ten days before he led an eager entourage of reporters around the state of Iowa, Governor George Bush had to field another of those hardball questions from the capital press corps. “How do you intend to meet the national press?” a woman asked, after a bill signing at an elementary school outside Austin. “Just like I have met all of you,” Bush said, “looking them straight in the eye.” One hundred reporters accompanied Bush from Austin to Des Moines, and another 100 were awaiting him there. With all that eye contact, it would be unfortunate if the national media were to forget that, unlike Libby Dole, Steve Forbes, and Pat Buchanan, George W. has a record. Any reporter who still clings to the quaint journalistic notion that a candidate’s record matters ought to be questioning the Bush record — while the candidate is engaged in all that eye contact. What follows are a few questions reporters traveling with the Governor of Texas ought to be asking him, and some editor’s notes for followup questions.
In the state with the largest volume of air pollution in the nation, why did you support a voluntary emissions program for grandfathered industrial plants that have been exempt from pollution control since the Texas Clean Air Act was passed in 1971?
Careful here — because the Governor will respond that a bill passed in the 1999 legislative session includes fees that create a disincentive for large-volume polluters, and that the fees will “go a long way” toward cleaning up the air in Texas. The fees are largely irrelevant, because most of the plants they would affect will be forced to clean up by an amendment added by a Democratic representative to a utilities deregulation bill.
Followup: In a state that is first in pollution and forty-ninth in spending on the environment, isn’t a simple mandate to comply with modern pollution control technology a cost-effective way to clean up the air?
If you are running as the “education governor,” why did you support a last-minute attempt by a Republican senator to pull $250,000 out of kindergarten funding and use it for your tax cuts?
Expect an answer that includes the phrase, “We provided a $3,000 raise for teachers and cut property taxes by $1.2 billion.”
Followup: What percentage of Texas school children cannot attend free, mandatory kindergarten because their school districts can’t afford it, and how much would it cost to fund free, mandatory kindergarten for all the children in the state of Texas, while reducing K-through-four classroom size to eighteen students? (Hint: the second answer is $1.2 billion.)
For homeowners in Austin, what is the average dollar amount in tax relief provided by the $1.2 billion property tax cut you pushed through the Legislature in 1999?
Expect the Governor to say that in Austin’s expanding economy, property tax reduction is difficult to achieve because property values are continually increasing.
Followup: For homeowners in Austin, what is the average dollar amount in tax relief provided by the $1.2 billion property tax cut you pushed through the Legislature in 1999? And what was the average dollar amount of tax relief provided to taxpayers in the Corpus Christi school district when you won a similar tax giveback in 1997? (Hint: $0.00 and $0.00.)
In late May, you walked onto the floor of the Senate and unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican Senators Drew Nixon and John Carona to support a voucher bill sponsored by Amarillo Republican Teel Bivins and Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry. Why do you support vouchers?
Expect the Governor to say that when schools fail, parents should have choices, and that the limited voucher program he supported unfortunately failed.
Followup: How can you describe the original Republican voucher program you supported as “limited,” when it included all four of the state’s largest major metropolitan school districts? What sort of “limited” national voucher program would you support?
You say that “children are our first priority.” So why did you try to establish eligibility to the federal/state Children’s Health Insurance Program at 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which would have dropped 200,000 of the 500,000 children who will be insured (only because Democrats in the House refused to go along with you)?
Expect the Governor to say that by limiting eligibility he could ensure that only the children who most need the insurance would get it.
Followup: Texas is second in the nation in the number of uninsured children (1.5 million). Only five states have eligibility rates lower than Texas’s 150 percent; brother Jeb set Florida’s eligibility level at 200 percent of the poverty level; and New Jersey Governor Whitman set eligibility at 300 percent. Did Jeb Bush and Whitman intend to provide low-cost insurance to children who don’t really need it?
The Senate version of the utilities deregulation bill would have loaded 70 percent of the $9 billion of debt that electric companies have incurred onto the backs of residential electricity consumers. When a Houston Democratic representative proposed an amendment that will have residential and industrial consumers do a 50-50 split on the $9-billion debt (factored evenly into consumer and industrial electric bills), why did you attempt to kill the amendment?
Expect the Governor to respond that the equal distribution of the $9 billion in debt will be bad for business and will drive capital out of the state.
Followup: If it’s bad for business when business has to pick up the tab for 70 percent of a private $9-billion debt, is it bad for consumers when consumers have to pick up the tab for 70 percent of a $9-billion debt?
On June 7, The New York Times ran a front-page story that strongly implied that residents of Texas have suffered from a corporate-funded tort reform campaign that has imposed limits on juries when they rule in favor of individuals who have sued corporations. How do you justify your unflagging support for tort reform?
Expect the Governor to respond that tort reform was necessary and “good for business” in Texas, and that everyone benefits in the end because insurance premiums fall.
Followup: How, then, did the Times find that after ten years of tort reform, insurance rates are not declining?
After the shootings in Littleton, Colorado, the only gun-related bill passed by the Texas Legislature was Jon Lindsay and Suzanna Gratia Hupp’s bill protecting manufacturers from lawsuits filed by cities that have to deal with the consequences of handgun violence. Why didn’t you oppose the bill, rather than signing it into law?
Expect the Governor to say that such lawsuits are unfair to businesses, which are not responsible for the behavior of individuals that buy their products.
Followup: If gun manufacturers cannot be held responsible for the consequences of the spread of handguns, what government actions do you support that would stop the spread of handguns?
In mid-May, the Senate was shut down for a day and hundreds of bills died at deadline when Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement on a hate crimes bill introduced in memory of James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to death by white racists in Jasper last summer. Why didn’t you step in and take a position?
Expect the Governor to yet again repeat that he said would consider signing a hate crimes bill if such a bill had made it to his desk.
Followup: What is your position on the hate crimes legislation — was it true that Republicans would have accepted it if it related only to race and not homosexuality, and isn’t a chief executive expected to be a leader and not just a passive recipient of the will of the legislative body?
In a state that is fiftieth in per capita spending, why didn’t you apply the $1.7 billion in surplus in 1997 and the $6.7 billion in surplus in 1999 to programs that have been underfunded for years — rather than using the money to fund tax rebates?
Expect the Governor to use the phrases “return tax dollars to the hands that created them, the taxpayers of Texas” and “limited government.”
Followup: Isn’t government in a state that is fiftieth in per capita spending already sufficiently limited?
Why did a fiscally conservative Republican Governor fail to dedicate some of the state’s budget surplus to the state’s Rainy Day Fund (the fund got no 1999 appropriation), rather than using it for tax cuts?
The Governor will probably respond that the strong Texas economy will continue to provide for all the basic services of government.
Followup: What are “basic services?” Can the economy continue to expand without contraction, and is national state budget expert Hal Hovey wrong when he describes the Texas Rainy Day Fund as being “dangerously underfunded” in the event of an economic downturn (but leaving the Governor in “a good position to pursue the presidency”)?
How do the exclusive drilling rights Harken Oil Company won in Bahrain, and the $850,000 profit on an insider trade of Harken stock that you (illegally) failed to declare to the S.E.C. several weeks before the Gulf War, compare to Hillary Clinton’s sweetheart deal on cattle futures in 1979?
At the mention of the Clintons, Governor Bush will respond that his most important job is being a father, that he loves his wife, and has wonderful parents. He will also add that he will not discuss the “indiscretions” of his youth and that he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since his fortieth birthday. — L.D.