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President Picks Ex-Aide as Mexico Ambassador

Diplomacy: Tony Garza, 53, was his secretary of state and served as Texas' chief liaison to Mexico when Bush was governor of the Lone Star State.

July 17, 2002|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Tony Garza, a prominent Texas Republican politician and former aide to then-Gov. George W. Bush, is the president's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the White House announced Tuesday.

Garza, 53, a second-generation American of Mexican descent, was Texas' chief liaison to Mexico while Bush was governor. He became the first Latino Republican elected to statewide office in Texas in 1998, when he was elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates energy production.

''Tony Garza has an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the United States and Mexico and its impact on the people of both nations,'' Bush said in a statement. ''He has served the people of Texas with honor and distinction and will be an outstanding representative of the United States.''

Garza's selection, which has been rumored for months, may be aimed in part at building support for the administration among Latinos. Administration officials may also hope that the selection of a close former Bush aide will help strengthen the White House's relationship with the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox, strained in recent months because Bush has been unable to fulfill a campaign promise to ease immigration restrictions.

The current ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow, is a career diplomat.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said, Garza will ''represent our country well from a perspective of experience and knowledge of the problems on both sides of the border.''

Another Texas Republican official, who asked to remain unidentified, said that while Garza was well liked in Texas GOP circles, it was unclear that he had the background for a job that may involve delicate negotiations on such issues as trade and immigration.

Garza was raised in Brownsville, Texas, a predominantly Latino city on the Mexico border. In 1994, Bush named him Texas secretary of state.

Since becoming president, Bush has chosen Garza to be part of a delegation that observed voter registration in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Garza had been mentioned as a candidate for federal housing secretary and as a successor to retiring Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas).

When the nomination is considered by the Senate, Garza could face questions about contacts with Enron Corp., the Houston-based energy concern that collapsed amid scandal last December. Garza was one of many politicians who accepted campaign contributions from Enron; he has returned $21,600 to a fund for employees who were financially devastated by the company's problems.

As Texas secretary of state, Garza participated in discussions with Enron and Mexican officials about energy exploration in Mexico. Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the contacts ''will obviously come up.''

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