The Austin to DC Derby

We have every kind of mixture you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews, and a cripple,” James Watt said of his staff at the Department of the Interior. The comment cost Watt his job and proved that even in the Reagan administration there were limits to what a public official could say – at least in the presence of reporters. Staffing a new presidential administration – as President Reagan learned and Governor Bush may discover – is a dicey business.

Some who have served well enough at the state level may not be ready for prime time. Ham Jordan, for example, was Jimmy Carter’s Karl Rove, a political whiz kid who helped the former Georgia governor make it to the White House and then proceeded to alienate two branches of the federal government, while still finding time in his off-duty hours to embarrass the sober Carter family. After a particularly unseemly incident in a popular Georgetown bar, White House lawyers felt compelled to issue a thirty-three-page rebuttal to accusations (reported in it) concerning Ham, a mouthful of his favorite drink (amaretto and cream), and a certain unsuspecting young woman’s cleavage. (Expect nothing of the sort from Rove, whose idea of a wild night is steamed asparagus, red wine, and conversations with Swedish foreign policy experts. See “The Green Party,” Left Field, May 29.)

Much of Bush’s middle and upper level agency staff – for example, at the Treasury Department, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Defense – would likely be drawn from previous Republican administrations, most likely his father’s. Already a parade of former Reagan and Bush cronies, from George Shultz and Dick Cheney to lesser-knowns like Martin Feldstein (an economist from the early Reagan administration) have had audiences with the Governor in Austin. Some have come for the opportunity to inscribe some national policy wisdom on Bush’s mostly blank slate, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Ohers are looking for cabinet-level positions. “What is going on here is that all the displaced officeholders of the earlier Reagan period and the Bush period are coming in and laying down their résumés and making nice presentations,” said University of Texas economist James Galbraith. “And I’m sure the governor is smart enough not to pay any attention to them.”

Beyond the old hands from the previous Republican administrations, what surprises await the public? Is Marvin Olasky a candidate for Secretary of Education, or perhaps the top spot at Housing and Urban Development – two offices from which he might attempt a practical application of the tenets of compassionate conservatism? Will Reyn (Son of Bill) Archer be offered the opportunity to dismantle Medicaid and cut all federal funding for public health initiatives at Health and Welfare? Would Tom Phillips be Bush’s first pick for the Supreme Court, based on a record of presiding over the most anti-labor, anti-consumer, pro-corporate state supreme court in the nation? Kay Bailey Hutchison has an interest in weapons and military spending, which by today’s standards is a real asset to any Secretary of State. Will Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a “Democrat” who swings both ways politically and has contributed to the Bush campaign, be returned to the top post he once held at the National Security Agency?

Insiders from both parties agree that it’s much too early to be predicting Bush’s picks. But it’s never too early to make sport of it. Here’s how T.O. handicaps the George W. Bush White House Derby. As always, odds are provided for entertainment purposes only. No wagering, please.


Horse, Current Position Line Comments Karl Rove, campaign guru 5 to 4 GWB won’t select a new Bible verse without putting in a call to Rove. Definitely Chief of Staff material. Karen Hughes, spokesperson 3 to 1 Seems to thrive on abuse — giving and receiving. Good bet for position in press office — or Ambassador to new U.S. Protectorate of Kosovo. Condoleeza Rice, exploratory committee member 4 to 1

Former national security aide under Bush’s Dad, and Stanford provost. Pro: Possibly the nation’s only black Republican woman who speaks Russian and opposes affirmative action. GWB couldn’t afford not to have her in D.C. Safe money as N.S.A. chief or cabinet official.

Mike Moses, Commissioner of Education 8 to 1 Bush’s waterboy at the T.E.A, where he has helped keep the Christianson a fraying leash. Due for a big reward, or a long vacation. Possible Education Secretary — or Secretary for the Abolition of Education. Barry McBee, GWB’s former TNRCC chair, now aide to Rick Perry 10 to 1 As state’s top environmental officer, brought a free-market, Christian approach to deregulating polluting industries — i.e., let ’er rip. Fair bet for E.P.A. chief, unless the Guv-in-Waiting won’t let him go. Don Evans, U.T. Board of Regents 15 to 1 Longtime Midland buddy and very deep pocket. If he wants out of the oil patch, GWB is obliged. As lifetime boss, likely Republican Labor Secretary. Tony Garza, Railroad Commissioner 20 to 1 Hispanic Republican who hitched his wagon to the right guy. GWB appointed him first Hispanic Secretary of State, then helped him win a seat on the powerful Railroad Commission. Secretary of Transportation on the make. Ralph Marquez, TNRCC commissioner 35 to 1 Pro: fiercely loyal Hispanic Republican. Shilled for the Governor’s voluntary emissions permit program. Con: couldn’t pour piss from a boot. Roy Coffee, former GWB D.C. liaison, now a lobbyist 35 to 1 Pro: already knows D.C. Con: same problem as Marquez … with instructions printed on the heel. Maybe they can tag-team as White House limo aides. Neil Bush, brother of Candidate 50 to 1 Pro: blood is thicker than water. Con: cost taxpayers $1 billion in bailout of his Colorado S&L, Silverado. Sounds eminently qualified for Secretary of Treasury, or to clean out those annoying regulators at the S.E.C. Marvin Olasky 100 to 1 When welfare moms live on lemonade-stand income and Marxists find Jesus, the Christian Right’s work will be done, and they can move on to the next world, or maybe Cuba. In the meantime, they can take solace in inspirational stories like that of former-Communist-turned-evangelical-Christian Marvin Olasky, now a U.T. journalism professor and syndicated monotonist. As an advisor to Bush, he burdened the national lexicon with the phrase “compassionate conservativism.” Press Aide or Court Historian/Chaplain. T.O.’S LONG SHOT PLAYS: Christian Right Trifecta: State GOP chair Susan Weddington, GOP vice-chair David Barton and former state chair Tom Pauken 666 to 1 Outside shot at ambassadorships to Djibouti, East Eritrea, and Angola. LBJ once said it’s better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in. These three should get their own latrine with a view. Capital Press Corps Pick Three: Paul Burka, Ken Herman, and Jane Ely 100 to 1 Possible presidential speechwriters. Burka had his audition in the June Texas Monthly: “If, as his detractors have charged, he is a middle-aged frat boy at heart … the slogan of the French Revolution was ‘Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!’” The daily scribes are not in that sycophantic league, but they can justify turning Social Security over to Wall Street without too much strain.

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Published at 12:00 am CST