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The Nation

Relaxed Bush Unveils New Image in Austin

January 05, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUSTIN, Texas — Returning to his political roots, an expansive President Bush felt so nostalgic Friday that he was on the verge of unleashing an off-color story or two. But he caught himself.

Fondly recalling his six years as Texas governor, during which he met weekly with the state's top two Democrats, Bush told an adoring crowd at the Capitol here: "I can't help but chuckle about our breakfasts that we used to have in this building. . . . I'd like to share some of the stories with the people watching on C-SPAN. But unfortunately, I can't repeat them in mixed company."

Bush spoke in the Capitol's majestic rotunda, as the state's governing establishment turned out for the unveiling of his official portrait as Texas' 46th governor.

As he sat onstage, waiting to speak, the president singled out numerous people in the crowd, giving them his trademark wave with fluttering fingers.

Accompanied by First Lady Laura Bush and surrounded by longtime financial supporters, loyal staffers and political allies, including Democratic Texas House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney, Bush was unusually relaxed and even jocular. He rambled through 10 minutes of remarks enlivened by one quip after another, interrupted by one wistful remembrance of the bipartisanship over which he presided.

Lest anyone missed his point--the contrast between Austin and Washington--the president spelled it out.

"We came in this building with one desire: to do what's right for Texas. We've got political labels around our name--no question about it. But we made up our mind to try to figure out what was best for our state and to work together," Bush said.

He then suggested that he took that same "can-do spirit" to Washington--only to be disappointed, at least for now.

"Sometimes Washington needs to figure out that politics isn't what's most important; the people are what's most important," he said.

Bush did not mention any particular legislation or political nemesis, saving those for a reinvigorated campaign for his economic stimulus bill that he intends to launch today at a town hall meeting in Ontario, Calif., followed by stops in Portland, Ore.

Addressing a crowd of about 150 people after his portrait was unveiled, Bush said he intends to remind members of Congress after returning to Washington on Monday that "results are what matters, not rhetoric."

He also said he intends to "remind people that our country, just like our state, is much bigger than the political process. Those are the lessons I learned here in this state capital."

Bush neglected to mention, though, that the much-vaunted bipartisanship in the Texas Legislature has all but vanished amid intrigue and recrimination in the aftermath of political redistricting.

For the most part, Friday's event here was less about politics than about Bush, the former governor.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who as lieutenant governor took the top job when Bush moved to the White House, alluded to his predecessor's role as war commander and said, "Now more than ever, the people of the United States are seeing what kind of man George Bush is."

Laura Bush introduced the president as "my favorite Texan."

The president thanked the audience members for "taking time out of your day to come and witness my hanging."

The portrait, by Texas artist Scott Gentling, who is known for his depictions of state birds, shows Bush perched, perhaps on the edge of a desk, with his hands folded on his lap.

"Not bad," Bush told Perry in an aside after the painting was uncovered.

"Pretty tough old bird here to paint, wasn't I?" Bush said jokingly to Gentling. "I know it was a challenge on your part, but it looks like you did me justice."

Bush's portrait will hang in the rotunda next to that of his predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards, who frequently ridiculed the president's father when the elder Bush served in the White House. The younger Bush then defeated Richards in 1994 to become governor.

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