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Bush Defends Racial Record but Not Party's

Diversity: Responding to criticism by retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the Texas governor agrees Republicans must do more for the nation's minorities.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — A day after retired Gen. Colin L. Powell challenged the Republican Party to improve its commitment to minorities, George W. Bush on Tuesday defended his record on racial and ethnic issues but agreed the GOP needs to do more.

Powell, in a prime-time speech to the Republican National Convention on Monday, said the party must sustain its outreach to minorities "every day," not just in an election year.

Bush, asked about Powell's speech as he prepared for a day of campaigning before arriving today at the convention in Philadelphia, said of his party, "We've got a lot of work to do. And I agree with him that I'm the man to do it for the Republican Party."

Powell, indeed, praised Bush for taking the lead in promoting inclusiveness among Republicans--the prevalent theme of the convention Monday night.

But Powell also scored the party for hypocrisy on the issue of affirmative action. "Some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but hardly a whimper is heard from them over affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests," he said.

Asked about Powell's comments, Bush said he did not know what specific affirmative action policies the popular black general had in mind. But he stood up for his practices as governor of Texas, arguing that "we took a very positive step toward ensuring the racial mix of Texas universities reflected the nature of our population."

Statistics Under Bush

Bush opposes the use of quotas or racial preferences in hiring or school admission. Instead, under his tenure as Texas governor, the state adopted a plan allowing the top 10% of every high school graduating class automatic admission to any state college or university.

As proof of his commitment to minorities, Bush frequently points to several high-profile appointments he has made, including Tony Garza, the governor's first pick to the state commission overseeing oil companies.

But Texas Democrats and minority groups have criticized Bush for failing to make appointments that reflect the state's racial diversity. For instance, while estimates show that Latinos constitute nearly 30% of Texas' population, they make up 13% of Bush's appointees, according to figures provided by the governor's office.

And while blacks make up about 12.6% of the state's population, according to the most recent projections, they amount to about 9% of the 3,000 appointments Bush has made to various state boards and committees.

As Bush has made his way toward Philadelphia the last five days to accept the GOP presidential nomination, he has attracted increasingly large, enthusiastic--and mostly white--crowds. The vast majority of the delegates to the convention also are white.

Bush said Tuesday that he could not explain the lack of diversity on the campaign trail and the convention floor, but he argued, "I'm not so sure the nature of the crowd necessarily is going to reflect the nature of the vote."

Harking back to his gubernatorial reelection campaign in 1998, Bush said that he did not remember the racial or ethnic makeup of the crowds then, "but I got nearly 50% of the Hispanic vote and over a quarter of the African American vote."

Bush campaigned Tuesday in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Times staff writer T. Christian Miller contributed to this story.

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