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Bush faces questions over funeral home dispute

August 24, 1999
Web posted at: 6:34 p.m. EDT (2234 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a news conference dominated by tough questions about cocaine, the issue that really irritated Texas Gov. George W. Bush last week concerned funeral homes.

"It's frivolous, It is frivolous," Bush said last Friday.

It's a tangled tale, centered on a woman named Eliza May, a Democrat who was Texas' top funeral industry regulator before she was fired last February.

May claims she was sacked for investigating Houston-based Services Corporation International, the nation's largest funeral home company.

The company's founder, Robert L. Waltrip, is a friend and financial backer of Bush.

Waltrip, his company, and others affiliated with SCI have contributed $61,750 to Bush's two gubernatorial campaigns, according to an analysis of finance records by CNN's campaign finance consultant, The Campaign Study Group.

May said she was fired after resisting pressure from the governor's staff to end her investigation of SCI -- an investigation which resulted in a $445,000 fine against the company for a range of offenses, including using unlicensed embalmers.

And how does Governor Bush come in?

He filed an affidavit in May's original lawsuit, claiming "I have had no conversations with SCI officials, agents, or representatives concerning the investigation or any dispute arising from it."

But by his own admission, Bush did drop in on a meeting between Waltrip and Joe Allbaugh, the governor's former chief of staff who is now Bush's 2000 presidential campaign manager. Bush said it was merely a quick social visit.

"I can't remember what I said, all I know is that it lasted no time, and that hardly constitutes a serious discussion," Bush said.

But May's lawsuit claims they did talk about the investigation and she has asked a judge to hold Bush in contempt of court and compel him to testify.

"This is politics. I spent at most 20 seconds on the subject. And that's why, every single time someone has a lawsuit you want your governor being drug through the courts? The answer is no," Bush said.

A judge will take up the matter Monday.


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Tuesday, August 24, 1999

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