Political Intelligence



Since he started his presidential campaign, about the time he received the benediction of the late Bob Bullock, it has been almost impossible to find anyone who will criticize Governor George Bush. Even Democratic legislators realize that by going after Bush they either antagonize the next president or antagonize a governor who will come home angry after losing an election. There have been exceptions: Austin Democrat Glen Maxey attacked Bush for his failed attempt to limit federal/state subsidized health insurance for low-income children, then went on to accuse him of a backhanded insult to gays — after Maxey was quietly told by Bush that his public comments about gays didn’t apply to Maxey (the only openly gay member of the Legislature). Recently, Austin Democratic Rep Elliott Naishtat went public in response to Bush’s statement on hunger in Texas. Asked about a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that found 5 percent of Texas children suffering from hunger, the Governor said: “Where? You’d think the Governor would have heard of it if there are pockets of hunger in Texas.” Naishtat said he is appalled at the Governor’s comments — “and that there are massive numbers of people who go hungry…. Could it be the Governor also doesn’t know that Texas ranks at or near the bottom in every recognized national poverty-related category?” Naishtat asked. It wasn’t the first time Naishtat got crosswise with Bush. During the past legislative session, when the Governor’s legislative staff was pushing punitive welfare reform measures, Naishtat refused to budge on certain issues. As a result, Bush’s welfare reform bill fell apart. (That Bush’s campaign staff was overriding compromises negotiated by his legislative aide, Terral Smith, probably didn’t help.)


Governor Bush’s late-December observation that John McCain’s campaign finance reform proposal “will unilaterally disarm our conservative principles and the Republican Party” was one of the goofier lines to appear in the daily press dispatches from the Bush campaign office. So you might think the Governor’s syntax coach would have reworked the phrase. Not hardly. In the January 7 debate in New Hampshire, Bush reiterated the disarmament threat posed by McCain’s proposal, which would allow unions to make political contributions. And it got worse, or at least more “obsfucated.” Later in the debate, Bush pledged he would never use the office of the presidency “to obsfucate.” By Saturday, The New York Times was onto him. “That is a good thing,” wrote Times reporter Frank Bruni. “Because the verb is obfuscate.” What the Times found unusual was the fact that this was the third time in two days that Bush had mispronounced the word. “On each occasion, he paused slightly either before or after, the oratorical equivalent of a drum roll or cymbal crash.” What is noteworthy is that the Governor’s campaign staff hasn’t set the boss straight. The campaign is now so tightly controlled that after exactly fifteen minutes of questions from the press, reporters are not permitted to ask even a brief question in passing. “It is the most choreographed campaign I’ve ever seen,” said a veteran reporter watching Bush’s official declaration of his candidacy (complete with mariachis) in Austin last month.


The Austin Chronicle got half the story when it reported in its New Year’s wrap-up that the Bush campaign stiffed Austin’s Club DeVille. The campaign “axed plans for a $20,000 private New Year’s affair at the club some seventy-two hours before the fact, leaving the DeVille with no time to advertise that they would be open after all,” wrote the Chronicle’s Ken Lieck. Bush campaign staffer Mark McKinnon is a part owner at the DeVille, which might explain why the club management “never thought to get a deposit.” McKinnon, who is responsible for the home-movie look in many of Bush’s video spots, previously worked as a political consultant for Democratic candidates, including Ann Richards.


The Financial Times of London reports that “Texas insiders” recommend that reading just one book might be more helpful in understanding George Bush than watching all Republican candidates’ debates. The book insiders are recommending is former Observer reporter Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place. What does the book have to do with George Bush?

“The central character of the book,” the Financial Times reports “… is Governor Arthur Fenstemaker, a thinly disguised Lyndon B. Johnson, who curses, shouts and knows how to pull strings. The charismatic Fenstemaker wheels and deals from a swimming pool, offers Scotch to nearly everyone who visits his office, and takes a bit part in a movie being filmed along the Mexican border.” So “for those in the know, the book reveals some timeless truths about Texas deal making.”

The story goes on to tell that Brammer’s novel is set at Scholz Garden, “where Bush’s predecessor, the big-haired Ann Richards, was a regular. (The saloon is mostly a Democratic hangout, and the now teetotal Bush hasn’t followed her lead.)”

“One thing has changed since The Gay Place was written nearly forty years ago; back then ‘gay’ meant happy and merry.” Today, according to the short piece in the British newspaper, Amazon.com lists the book along with How to Make the World A Better Place for Gays and Lesbians.


Of the three Bush Books out thus far, one has been recalled by its publisher, St. Martin’s Press, because its author failed to name his sources in the most damaging allegations the book makes about its subject; one is an “autobiography” written by the Governor’s press secretary Karen Hughes, and has been panned; and one, Bill Minutaglio’s First Son has been praised by reviewers. The Bush campaign now has released the fourth book on the subject. A Fresh Start for America includes all of Bush’s major policy speeches — and excerpts from columnists praising the Governor’s public policy pronouncements. The quotes from the columnists included in the 208-page book, however, are heavily edited; at times lines of praise are lifted from passages critical of Bush’s positions.


What do you get when you combine liquid acid with plutonium? Sounds like a bad trip to us. But residents of the Texas Panhandle will never find out, because the U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded all future plutonium processing contracts to a facility in South Carolina, rather than to the Pantex plant in Amarillo. The MOX process that converts plutonium to fuel requires using acid to break down the plutonium. Pantex, now the main contractor for warhead disassembly, sought the contract despite having no experience processing plutonium. According to S.T.A.N.D., a Pantex watchdog group in Amarillo, the company has yet to demonstrate that it can safely handle its current plutonium assignment: long-term storage of “plutonium pits.”

Three years ago, when Pantex was awarded the disassembly contract, the D.O.E. assured the Panhandle that major safety improvements would be made at the facility in order to accommodate the increased risks that came with the contract. To date, S.T.A.N.D. reports, plans to repackage the pits and upgrade the buildings in which they are housed have been scaled back, delayed, or scrapped altogether.


If that wasn’t enough to sink Amarillo’s plutonium boosters into a nuclear depression, the Department of Energy is now considering withholding $5 million from the Amarillo National Resource Center — formerly the Amarillo National Resource Center for Plutonium. The Center — a federal/state-funded research and public information combine that ties the University of Texas to the Department of Energy — does some scientific research. (It also does a great deal of plutonium promotion, and is responsible for the Amarillo airport exhibit which makes the case that plutonium is relatively safe. “What would happen if you swallowed plutonium?” one cartoon character in the exhibit asks. “Most, or all, would pass through the body with little or no effect.”) On hearing that the Center’s funds might be cut, the Amarillo Globe-News went critical, attacking the D.O.E. and darkly suggesting that perhaps the reason is political and has to do with Panhandle Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry’s chairing a special house committee charged with investigating and correcting serious security breaches in the D.O.E.’s handling of nuclear secrets at its Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico.