Follow the Money: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America

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9780743286435: Follow the Money: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America

With its barbecues, new Cadillacs, and $4,000 snakeskin cowboy boots, Texas is all about power and money -- and the power that money buys. This detailed and wide-scope account shows how a group of wealthy Texas Republicans quietly hijacked American politics for their own gain.

Getting George W. Bush elected, we learn, was just the tip of the iceberg....

In Follow the Money, award-winning journalist and sixth-generation Texan John Anderson shows how power in Texas has long been vested in the interconnected worlds of Houston's global energy companies, banks, and law firms -- not least among them Baker Botts, the firm controlled by none other than James A. Baker III, the Bush family consigliere. Anderson explains how the Texas political system came to be controlled by a sophisticated, well-funded group of conservative Republicans who, after elevating George W. Bush to the American presidency, went about applying their hardball, high-dollar politicking to Washington, D.C.

When George Bush reached the White House, he brought with him not only members of the Texas legal establishment (among them former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) but empowered swarms of Republican lobbyists who saw in Bush's arrival a way to make both common cause and big money.

Another important Beltway Texan was Congressman Tom DeLay, the famous "Exterminator" of Houston's Twenty-second District, who became majority leader in 2003 and controlled which bills made it through Congress and which did not. DeLay, in turn, was linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who used his relationships with both DeLay and Karl Rove on behalf of his clients, creating a shockingly corrupt flow of millions of dollars among Republican lobby groups and political action committees. Washington soon became infected by Texas-style politics. Influence-peddling, deal-making, and money-laundering followed -- much of it accomplished in the capital's toniest restaurants or on the fairways and beaches of luxurious resorts, away from the public eye.

The damaging fallout has, one way or another, touched nearly all Americans, Democrat and Republican alike. Follow the Money reveals the hidden web of influence that links George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Texas Republicans to the 2000 recount in Florida; the national tort-reform movement; the controversial late-hour, one-vote passage of the Medicare Reform Act; congressional redistricting schemes; scandals in the energy sector; the destruction of basic constitutional protections; the financial machinery of the Christian right; the manipulation of American-Indian tribe casinos; the Iraq War torture scandals; the crooked management of the Department of the Interior; the composition of the Supreme Court; and the 2007 purges of seasoned prosecutors in the Justice Department.

Some of the actors are in federal prison, others are on their way there, and many more have successfully eluded a day of reckoning.

Told with verve, style, and a not-so-occasional raised eyebrow, Anderson's account arcs directly into tomorrow's headlines. Startling in its revelations, Follow the Money is sure to spark controversy and much-needed debate concerning which direction this country goes next.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

John Anderson received his A.B. in history from Rice University. He also holds three graduate degrees from Yale University. The former deputy editor of American Lawyer, he is the author of two widely praised nonfiction books (Burning Down the House and Art Held Hostage). He lives in Ossining, New York, with his wife and son.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Changing of the Guard

Flash back to the spring of 1994. Between then and now, a vast chasm yawns across the political surface of Texas. It's hard to believe, but what seems like an aeon of political change took place in little more than a decade. But change it did.

Back then, Texas was a different place.

This was the political landscape of Texas as the 1994 election cycle loomed: The state house of representatives was Democratic; the state senate was Democratic. The state supreme court and most of the lesser state courts were Democratic. All these too were Democrats: Governor Ann Richards; Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock; Attorney General Dan Morales; and Land Commissioner Garry Mauro. It was a deep bench the Democrats fielded -- and an ambitious one. Some among them dreamed of being governor themselves; others dreamed of the Senate; one, at least, might have had higher ambitions still. None of their dreams were to be fulfilled.

The Texas congressional delegation stood at twenty-one Democrats and nine Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Among these were some of the most powerful and senior members of Congress, led by the veteran Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks of Beaumont.

Only in the U.S. Senate were the Texas Republicans dominant. And the two serving senators from the Lone Star State were widely accorded to be among the least impressive of its members: the thin-lipped, whiny-voiced Phil Gramm, his native, nasal Georgia accent never having left him, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, elected only the year before in a special election to replace the long-serving mandarin Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. Gramm, with his delusions of grandeur unabated, yet with his presidential aspirations fast going up in smoke, was among the least liked by his fellow senators, while Hutchison, for all her personal charm, was a very junior senator. Neither had more than limited influence. Neither was ever going to be a major presence in the U.S. Senate.

How then is it possible that such cataclysmic change came to Texas -- and in such a short time?

True, Texas had had a Republican governor in its recent past -- the first since the post-Civil War age of Reconstruction, millionaire oilman William P. Clements of Dallas. Clements served two nonconsecutive terms as governor (1979-83 and 1987-91) and was widely judged a failure both times. Arrogant to the point of abrasiveness, Clements made few friends in Austin and proved a poor public face to put on the rise of Texas Republicanism, but he was colorful.

The football-loving Clements had also served as chairman of the Southern Methodist University trustees. There, he helped preside over one of the worst scandals in NCAA history. Players on the SMU Mustangs football team -- 52-19-1 between 1980 and 1986 -- had, it turned out, been paid thousands of dollars from a slush fund run by boosters. The NCAA responded by handing SMU the so-called death penalty, barring the team from bowl games and television appearances for two years and reducing football scholarships by fifty-five over four years -- and mandating an entire year's absence (1987) from the playing field.

Ironically, Clements's political comeback could be traced to football. His pallid successor as governor, Democrat Mark White, following the advice of Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, had rammed a "no-pass, no-play" law through the state legislature -- and had lived to pay for it with his political hide. Football-loving Texans of the Clements variety were horrified to learn that high school athletes would be barred from playing when the only sin they had committed was earning a failing grade or two in class. Largely on the basis of public resentment over no-pass, no-play, Mark White found himself bounced from office.

After his second term, Clements called it a day. His handpicked successor, multimillionaire Texas oilman Clayton Williams, running a well-financed, "good ole boy" campaign, was expected to cruise to victory. At times, Williams held as much as a twenty-point lead over his Democratic opponent, State Treasurer Ann Richards. But then "Claytie" Williams self-destructed, first by refusing to shake hands with Richards, then by equating a sudden Texas thunderstorm to rape, joking with reporters that "as long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." That was the day that the bumptious Williams lost the emerging "soccer mom" generation of middle-class, suburban Texas women -- and with it the 1990 gubernatorial election as well.

Even so, Richards squeaked to victory, with less than 50 percent of the vote. The argument could be made -- and has been made -- that Ann Richards's 1990 electoral win was a fluke, merely putting off by four years Republican rule in Texas. That argument, however, fails to consider the widespread popular support enjoyed by Richards for most of her governorship. In truth, the state had never had a politician quite like her. She was neither overbearing (like Clements) nor bland (like Mark White). Richards, the former wife of a legendary Texas labor and civil rights lawyer, was, instead, spunky and outspoken, humorous and energetic.

Richards's keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention had been a sensation. Referring to Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush, Richards had uttered the memorable line "Poor George, he can't help it....He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." She had also earned a lifetime of enmity from the Bush family and their followers.

The Richards governorship was notable for more than mere acerbic wit. The long-stagnant Texas economy, stimulated by the new governor's economic revitalization programs, began to grow again. Aggressive audits were said to have saved the state some $6 billion in the same period. As governor, Richards took on problems that other Texas governors had passed on, beginning with an attempt to reform the state's notoriously overcrowded prison system; a very un-Texas-like attempt to reduce the sale of semiautomatic weapons; and, most problematic of all, an effort to reform the way in which public schools were funded. The so-called Robin Hood plan sought to channel money from the state's richest school districts into its poorest districts, most of them black and Latino in population.

Ann Richards was liberal, without being too liberal -- her pragmatic progressivism masked by the thick and distinctly Texan accent in which she set forth her latest program. Richards always had a narrow pathway to walk politically. Many of her programs were controversial -- none more so than the Robin Hood plan -- and Richards made many friends and many enemies along the way. It did not help that Richards was a tough taskmaster, known for driving her staff hard, nor that she refused to make kindly with some in the local media. In the words of the spouse of a high-ranking Texas Monthly editor, "Ann was never very inviting." Richards's attitude was, the spouse added, in studied contrast with that of her successor, who made a point of having the panjandrums of the press "over to the mansion."

But govern Ann Richards did -- and in a state where the governor's powers are derived as much from personal persuasion as from statute. She was surely bigger than life.

Her Republican opponent in the 1994 election was anything but. Indeed, apart from bearing a famous name and a reputation for having helped rescue the Texas Rangers baseball team from its notoriously cheap (and wildly right-wing) owner, Eddie Chiles -- and making himself a multimillionaire in the process -- George W. Bush was a virtual unknown.

At the time, Eddie Chiles, though never a candidate for office, was a bigger presence on the Texas political scene than Bush. Chiles, in the great right-wing tradition of H. L. Hunt, had paid good money to espouse his reactionary views on spot radio ads. The ads, remembered by a generation of Texans, began with the exhortation "I'm Eddie Chiles, and I'm mad!" Usually it was taxes that Eddie Chiles was mad about, taxes written up there in Washington, D.C., by a bunch of tax-and-spend Democrats, not a few of them Texas Democrats.

George W. Bush inherited the message -- but not the style -- of an Eddie Chiles. At first glance, he seemed, if anything, to be a mild-mannered fellow. A listener too, if for no other reason than he sure didn't want to be seen to be a talker.

The story has been told before -- often and well, in, for example, Bush's Brain, by Wayne Slater and James Moore -- but the gist of it is that the brilliant Austin-based Republican strategist Karl Rove found in the young Bush the perfect candidate, virtually a political tabula rasa. Governor Richards and her strategists expected -- not entirely without reason -- that the younger Bush would, like Claytie Williams, self-destruct in the campaign. Rove, however, kept the candidate "on message," and, as much as possible, away from the media.

Bush ran on only four issues -- among these, school financing reform and tort reform -- and the same themes, encapsulated in easy-to-remember sound bites, were repeated constantly whenever he spoke. Rove saw to it that the candidate received a series of tutorials designed to teach him the rudiments of Texas state government. Moore and Slater call it "a crash course on Texas civics." The veteran legislator Bill Ratliff, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and an expert on school finance, was flown in twice for daylong sessions with Bush in a small conference room in Dallas. The candidate, Ratliff discovered, "didn't know much." Nor did he take notes, preferring to try to absorb the "stream" of information Ratliff poured out. If an aide is to be believed, the candidate didn't even know the difference between Medicaid and Medicare. "Now, I hear these two," Bush explained. "They're different. What's the difference between the two?"

Probably the most important of Bush's briefers was Mike Toomey, a former Republican state legislator who was by now one of the leading business lobbyists in Austin...

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