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Blanca project a waste of money. “Forget environmental facts we spent, what, $37 million on this, since 1982, on a low-level nuclear waste site, and we still don’t have a facility? Let me tell you, whoever’s running the low-level nuclear waste commission, needs to be fired… and if I’m elected governor, I’ll fire him the first day I’m in office…. We should have been pursuing the Andrews [County] sitethey’ve got a site they’ve already built. It’s real simple. The private sector has built a site to protect low-level nuclear waste materialsthe public sector’s spent $37 million and has got nothing but a raw piece of land. The people in Andrews want it, the people in Sierra Blanca don’t want it. Explain to me why we’re doing something in Sierra Blanca.” Flying over East Texas, the conversation ranged from these questions to Democratic history to national party politics \(“We haven’t had a serious presidential fight in Texas in twenty-four “I disagree with [Attorney General] Morales’ interpretation of Hopwood…and we need to do what\(“[Secretary of State] Garza’s undercutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is rank demagoguery [and] and an attempt to still strong belief that government can work, and on behalf of ordinary citizens. “The real challenge for me,” he said, “and for any official in either party, is to convince our citizens that the government is doing its job. Because most people don’t think we are.” Mauro and his staff say they are expecting to run an “issues-oriented” campaigneducation, environment, the lic safety. They believe the Bush campaign, in turn, will deride Mauro as a “liberal’s liberal,” and attack him over the rumors of scandal which have touched his office: an FBI investigation of a phone calls during the 1992 Clinton campaign \(reimbursed by Bush campaign letter called attention to Mauro’s “twenty-fiveyear friendship” with the Clintons, but Mauro insists that his association with the Clintons will only help him. “We’ve got the best economy in the history of the state, lowest unemployment in thirty years, and it’s under the economic plan that all the Republicans, including Governor Bush, opposed. Yeah, it will help me.” Mauro says his pollsters tell him that despite unflattering headlines, Clinton is still strong enough, even in Texas. “Right now Clinton’s got a 51 percent popularity [in Texas],” Mauro says. Referring to his own recent polls, he added, “I paid big money for that number.” State Democratic Chairman Bill White argues that if Mauro runs a grassroots, issues-oriented campaignand the party helps him with sufficient turnouthe’s got a fair shot at beating Bush. White says that he is lobbying the national Democratic party to take a more serious financial interest in the Texas campaigns next year, as it has not done since 1976. White says he has not yet won the argument, but it will be a “serious bone of contention” over the next year. More than one observer has noted that what may be at stake in the 1998 governor’s race is not only the future of Garry Mauro, but the future of the Democratic Party in Texas. A couple of Dems de scribed the combative Mauro, somewhat wistfully, as perhaps “the last Democrat” holding statewide office. Asked if he agreed with that assessment, Mauro said quickly, “Hell, no. There’s at least nine million other Democrats in this state.” But he added. “I may be the last Democrat on the ballot. What I mean by that, is that I got involved in public service because I stand for a set of core values, and I know where I came from. And they’re Democratic core values, and I’m not gonna back off my Democratic core values.” He described those values, as he has in countless speeches, as consisting of a belief in hard work and playing by the rules, and that “your kids should do better than you did,” and that there should be a safety net for both the young and the old”that’s what Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are all about.” Later I asked him if he felt at all isolated within current Texas politics, and more specifically the current Democratic Party. “Here’s what I think,” he said. “I didn’t find the parade and get in front of it. I’m a leader. I’m leading the parade. I’ve been a leader for Bill Clinton since the day he announced. I don’t back away from what I believe in, and the people I believe in. And when I look behind me, I see a lot of people at the top of our ticket that haven’t been part of that parade. And I don’t agree with them.” Can he beat Bush? I asked a couple of members of the Class of ’82, both now out of government, what they thought of Mauro’s chances. Former Attorney General Jim Mattox called Mauro a formidable challenger, and said that especially this early, the race itself is “beyond all prognostication.” “As a challenger,” Mattox went on, “[Mauro] has the ability to cut and shoot, so to speak, and I think he’ll make a far better candidate than a lot of people think he will.” Former Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower also likes Mauro’s chances but, he emphasized, only if he is truly willing to take the “rich son-of-a-Bush” head on. “Garry has the political acumen and organizing ability to run a real race against Bush,” said Hightower. “He has a solid record ass land commissioner that puts him in a good position to be credible with voters, and he knows…that to beat Bush, he has to whack him right upside the head with a political two-by-four, going right at his elitism and vulnerabilities. I guess the only question I have is whether he will do that, whether he will override other advisors who will tell him to go light on Bush and run a sort of moderate campaign. For Garry to win, he’s got to excite voters who have not been turning out, even in gubernatorial elections….he has the ability to do that.” As I write, Mauro and his advisors are still officially considering whether or not he should run. He said he hopes to announce his decision by the first or second week of November. Considering the tepid response he was receiving from the party insiders, I asked him if he knew whom or what they were thinking of, even hypotheticallyif he should he take their advice and decide not to run for governor. “They’re thinking of nothing,” Mauro replied. “WE’VE GOT THE BEST ECONOMY IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATE, LOWEST UNEMPLOYMENT IN THIRTY YEARS, AND IT’S UNDER THE ECONOMIC PLAN THAT ALL THE REPUBLICANS, INCLUDING GOVERNOR BUSH, OPPOSED.” 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 24, 1997