Friday, December 22, 2000

Bush exits, Perry Enters

Texas Transition

As Bush exits, Perry has chance to shape the state

December 22, 2000
The Dallas Morning News Copyright 2000, 2001

George W. Bush bade farewell to Texas colleagues Thursday with an understandable dose of emotion. Although leading the nation will present the president-elect with bountiful challenges, serving as the state's 46th governor may end up being the passionate Texan's favorite job.

Mr. Bush could walk the corridors of the Texas Capitol with ease, drape his feet over the corner of his desk while meeting with visitors, and work with legislators whose preoccupation with court politics pales next to Washington's intense fascination with palace intrigue. The fact that state governments operate on a more human scale explains why governors often say they have the best position in American politics.

Mr. Bush's greatest legacy as Texas' leader is the center-right consensus that he helped create and maintain. Yes, legislators fought and disagreed over fundamental ideas like tax reform. But Mr. Bush pushed the state to reform its schools, overhaul its juvenile laws, create new welfare policies, strengthen reading initiatives, rewrite liability laws and develop a more inclusive politics. He and legislators together showed that our institutions can work, when given the right prodding and enough flexibility.

Mr. Bush's greatest strength as governor was his ability to sell his ideas and values. The energetic leader presented an overriding belief in his first inaugural address - "government if necessary, but not necessarily government" - and then enlisted legislators from unpredictable corners to work with him on translating that ideal into reality. He was not averse to spending more for schools, but neither did he shy from enlisting religious institutions to combat larger problems like urban poverty.

Like all governors, Mr. Bush leaves behind a list of topics that he did not handle well. Most notably, he belatedly paid attention to Texas' environmental challenges. And Mr. Bush never grasped the raging debate about suburban sprawl.

The state's 47th governor, Rick Perry , must now set to work on such quality-of-life issues as cleaning our air and improving our transportation corridors . He also must put as much focus on Texas colleges as Mr. Bush placed on elementary and secondary education.

Gov. Perry arrived in office Thursday with some of the same doubts that surrounded George W. Bush's abilities in 1995. But it could prove wrong to underestimate the West Texan. He likewise has often defied his critics, enough to rise to lead the nation's second-largest state. The task before him now is to build upon a bipartisan tradition while putting his own mark on Texas' evolution.

Copyright 2000, 2001 The Dallas Morning News

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