Friday, March 28, 2008

Dave McNeely on Bob Bullock

Bob Bullock, the legendary late Texas lieutenant
governor for whom the Texas State History Museum is
named, was a legend in his own time. He still is,
almost nine years after his death.

He died June 18, 1999, less than five months after his
final term ended as the Senate's powerful presiding
officer. But Bullock stories are still told by the
thousands of people who worked for and around him as
state comptroller and lieutenant governor.

Bullock legacies – besides the museum in Austin,
dedicated in 2001 -- include the refurbished Texas
State Cemetery on East 7th Street, and the Bullock
Collection at Baylor University in Waco.

What many consider one of his biggest legacies is
President George W. Bush, the Republican who Democrat
Bullock endorsed not just for re-election as governor
in 1998, but also for president.

Bullock didn't make Bush president. But he could have
made Bush's gubernatorial record, which was a
cornerstone of Bush's initial run for the presidency,
a shambles had he chosen.

Instead, Bullock became Bush's bipartisan talisman,
which Bush used to show he had reached across party
lines in Austin, and would in Washington.

After Bullock's widow Jan introduced Bush at the
Republican National Convention in 2000, and praised
Bush's bipartisanship, Jim Henderson and I decided to
write a book about Bullock. "Bob Bullock: God Bless
Texas" was published by the University of Texas Press
in February.

It's the unlikely tale of the once hide-bound partisan
Democrat becoming one of the biggest advocates of a
Republican for president.

It's also about how he got in a position to be a Bush
enabler: making it to the state's second-highest
office, after 16 years as Texas tax collector and
overseer of whether the Legislature' s budget could be
met, despite a reputation for boozing, womanizing,
being investigated by state and federal officials, and
delivering to just about anybody tongue-lashings so
blunt, blistering and raw that he could make grown men
cry. Literally.

There are also many stories of Bullock's incredible
generosity, helping people who had no way to ever
repay him.

He and the late former Gov. Ann Richards were
political allies and drinking buddies. Her drinking
stopped in 1980, after she went to what Bullock called
"drunk school." He followed suit a year later.

Bullock was elected lieutenant governor in 1990. In
the same election, Richards won the governorship – a a
job he'd said several times he wanted, to the point of
announcing for it in the early 1980s. Inside a year,
he was treating her with disdain.

The late liberal columnist Molly Ivins, close friends
with both, said Richards had gotten the job he always

"Bullock was never fair to Ann, and treated her very
badly, mostly out of intense envy," Ivins said in a
2005 interview. "She could get elected governor and he

In fact, his treatment of her was often so brutal that
she refused to be interviewed for our book -- probably
because it was a no-win situation, even after his

If she told the truth, it would look like sour
grapes. If she gilded things, few who knew them both
would believe the sanitized version.

Bullock demanded information from Richards and her
staff as though they worked for him, not her. His
harsh demands were nasty enough that they refused to
honor them.

By contrast, Bush fed Bullock's hunger for
information, including gossip. The two quickly became
friends, which met a mutual need.

Texas is one of the few states that do not organize
along party lines like Congress. Bush knew that with
Bullock and Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney
overseeing Democratic majorities in the House and
Senate, to get any of his modest programs passed would
require their help.

At the same time, with the Senate steadily trending
Republican, Bullock knew it didn't hurt to have the
arm of the state's number one Republican around his

Yet It was a genuine friendship, and Bullock made no
secret of his belief that Bush could do as much for
Texas as Lyndon Johnson had.

Instead, the Bush presidency quickly evolved into one
of the most divisive, secretive and partisan in

Bush obviously found Washington a rougher, meaner
place, with ingrained partisanship and a Congress with
many members who thought they could do a better job,
and some actively seeking it.

What Bullock might have thought of Bush's tenure as
president – the war in Iraq, tax cuts in the face of
huge budget deficits, the heavy-handed redistricting
in Texas – will have to be argued by Bullock loyalists
and historians.

We've tried to do justice to the biography of the most
controversial and earthy Texas politician since
Bullock's role model LBJ. We hope you like it.

Books are available at bookstores, by calling UT Press
at (800) 252-3206, or online at
http://www.utexas. edu/utpress/ books/mcnbob. html.

Update: Peggy Fikac has more.

No comments: