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Will George Bush's Record in Texas Help or Hurt in the Presidential Election?

Aired July 21, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, Al Gore turns up the heat on George W. Bush's record down home in Texas. Is Bush's record fair game, and is Gore being fair?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: In Austin, Texas, Republican State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander and Garry Mauro, Texas co-chair of the Gore campaign and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Remember 12 years ago, when Vice President George Bush invaded Massachusetts to claim that his opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis, was responsible for polluting Boston Harbor? Well, Vice President Al Gore is attempting Dukakis' revenge. The Democratic presidential candidate made an abrupt thrust this week deep into the heart of Texas.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Texas now ranks No. 1 in industrial pollution. It's No. 2 for child poverty. It has -- it's No. 3 for death from asthma.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our Texas budget is balanced. And our Texas budget is in the black. We have a surplus of $1.4 billion dollars in the bank. For Vice President Gore to claim otherwise for his own political purposes is a travesty. He should be ashamed.


NOVAK: It's not just a one-shot venture. The word is out that the Gore campaign is targeting George W. Bush as a truly miserable governor, who just about ruined Texas and is prepared to do the same for the whole country. But wait a minute, Governor Bush was reelected by a landslide two years ago, in the greatest Republican victory from in Texas history. People from the other 49 states pour in, making Texas the second most populous state in the union.

So, who has got it right about Texas? And apart from accuracy, will Al Gore's newest battle tactic push him ahead of George W. Bush? And on Bush's search for a running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who is heading up the search, has changed his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming. Why does that matter? The Constitution makes it very difficult for the president and the vice president to come from the same state. Could Dick Cheney be Bush's No. 2 -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: I don't know, Bob, but I guarantee you that Warren Christopher will not be Gore's No. 2.

NOVAK: I think that's...


PRESS: Madame Comptroller, good evening, thank you for joining us.


PRESS: I'd like to -- before we get into the details of the governor's record, I'd just like to ask you a threshold question, not a trick question. And I want to take you back to something that we heard the governor say over and over and over again in the debates during the primaries. Please listen to a very quick sound bite here.


BUSH: ... candidate. I'm a person who, when given the responsibility of being the chief executive officer of the state, I performed...


PRESS: So Madame Comptroller, if the governor brags about his performance as governor of Texas, it is fair for us, journalists, or for his opponents, to examine his record in Texas, right?

RYLANDER: Absolutely. I'm pleased and proud for you to examine that record.

PRESS: All right, now let's get started then. On the budget, here are the facts. The fact is that last year Texas had the biggest surplus in the state's history. The fact is that this year, according to the Texas Legislative Budget Board, the state is running a shortfall of anywhere from $610 to $750 million. Madame Comptroller, has George Bush been so busy running for president that he can't keep his own house in order?

RYLANDER: Absolutely not. That's hogwash. Here are the facts. The surplus right now is one billion, four-hundred and nine million dollars. There is no deficit in Texas, and there is a budget surplus of one billion, four hundred and nine million. And Vice President Al Gore continues to use misleading, incorrect facts. This -- we are talking cash in the bank at the end of this fiscal year. Our sales tax are up dash $655 million over what was an anticipated this year. Motor vehicle tax is up $204 million. Oil and gas severance tax is up $274 million over what was anticipated. Personal income is up nine -- eight billion dollars over what we anticipated for this year alone. Gross state product is up $25 billion over what was anticipated. We have a healthy, robust economy. And Rob Junell -- who is a Democrat from San Angelo chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee -- Rob Junell and I invited the vice president -- we said we would be delighted to come to San Antonio.

He was in San Antonio yesterday. We said: Let us come show you the facts. He doesn't want to be concerned with the truth. I think that he's -- I think we are doing a disservice, not only to this state, but to the citizens of these United States, when you say there's a financial crisis in Texas, when in fact we have a healthy surplus.

PRESS: Well, those are a lot of numbers, Madame Comptroller, but I think the facts remain the same. I didn't say there was a deficit. And it's not Al Gore who is putting these numbers out. It's your own Texas Legislative Budget Board that says that you are...


PRESS: Pardon me, let me just finish -- that you are spending, overspending, for Medicaid and for prison housing, anywhere from $610 to $750 million.

So, you may project a surplus, but that's still means, right now, you are spending more than you anticipated. You have got a shortfall. Admit it.

RYLANDER: No, Bill let me -- no -- I will -- that is not correct. Here's what. Every biennium, you have some unexpected costs. It's just like in your personal homes, one month you will spend more on one thing. In Texas, some of those unanticipated costs that the legislator didn't see was the high increase in pharmaceuticals. Our Texas forestry has spent a million dollars more on suppressing fires.

PRESS: Seven-hundred-and-fifty million dollars worth.

RYLANDER: No, no, no, no, no that's incorrect. The latest figure -- accurate figure -- is $610 million dollars with all those things combined, including a million to suppress fires during the drought. But those -- but that happens every budgetary session. Those are simply budgetary adjustments. And with a one billion, four hundred and nine million surplus, that means if the legislature had to come to town today, which they don't, that they would not only have all of that $610 million covered, they would have $800 million to boot.

NOVAK: We got to get Garry Mauro into this. Mr. Mauro, just to make things straight, I have a kind of a deja view that in your campaign two years ago, you raised a lot of these issues about mismanagement. And the people of Texas have rewarded you with one of the worse defeats -- not one of the worst -- the worst defeat ever by a Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, am I right?

GARRY MAURO, GORE TEXAS CO-CHAIR: That's absolutely right, Bob. It's called being outspent 20 to one. But my argument was simply this: That election and this election should be about priorities. How do we spend additional revenues? George Bush had six billion dollars in additional revenues to spend. He chose to squander -- he wanted to squander almost three billion dollars of it in tax cuts that nobody would notice. And I thought we ought to put it in elementary education, teacher pay raises, higher education, insurance for uninsured kids.

I thought we ought to give it to the people. This is still about priorities. And I think...

NOVAK: Well, the...

MAURO: ... and I would like to ask Carole, I mean, if she's right...

NOVAK: Well, let me ask you a question about...


MAURO: ... if she's right, and we have $800 million, why don't we call a special session this next month or in September and raise teacher pay to the national average? Right now, we are 30th in the country. We're way below the teacher average. Why don't we have universal health care for our kids?

NOVAK: Let me just ask you -- let me ask you a question first. And that is that, the budget surplus priorities that I have here shows that K-12 education takes up 37 percent of the budget priorities, and tax relief only 30 percent; 37 percent of the surplus going to K- through-12 education, that looks pretty good to me.

MAURO: Well, we are still spending in the 40s on a per-capita basis on secondary and primary education. That 37 percent may look good, but if you look at what other rich states do, you'll find that we are way down the list. I mean, the fact is, we aren't spending enough on education. Bob, we still don't have universal kindergarten in this state. We still don't have universal kindergarten in this state. And usually when I raise that issue, people say: Well, that's impossible. Everybody goes to kindergarten; well, not in Texas.

NOVAK: You know, that's just...

MAURO: If you live in a small, poor, rural district in Texas, we don't fund kindergarten today. And that's wrong. It's a wrong priority. We ought to have funded kindergarten fully before we had a single tax cut.

NOVAK: Mr. Mauro, as you might have found out in the last campaign, you live in a pretty conservative state that wants to give a lot of that surplus back to the people in tax cuts rather than in government spending. Isn't this a philosophical question that maybe -- looking at the votes that they've just had in Congress -- a lot of people in the United States want to give surpluses back in tax cuts?

MAURO: Bob, you're absolutely right. That's what this election is about. It's about priorities. And if you want to give half of the surplus back to the people in tax cuts, or you want to use the surplus to pay down the deficit, eliminate the debt. And I'll give people real services, health care for everybody that can't afford health insurance. If you want to do those things, then you ought to vote for Al Gore.

PRESS: OK, all right. All right, Comptroller, Comptroller, let me ask you, we want to move on beyond the budget, if we can, because there are a lot of other areas we want to look at.

RYLANDER: May I address those priorities very quickly?

PRESS: Well, I'm going to ask...

RYLANDER: The tax cuts were for hard-working Texans. One of those is a sales-tax holiday, so you can get kid-os ready to go back to school.


RYLANDER: That saved hard-working Texans $32 million, keep getting their kid-os ready to go back to school.

PRESS: All right, I want to move on. I want to move on, please, beyond the budget. Because we don't have time for a whole budget show. I want to ask you about the environment. It's another area where the governor brags about his record as an environmentally conscientious governor. Let me show you what the Environmental Protection Agency says about Texas when it comes to air pollution. Texas: dirtiest air the nation, No. 1 in the number of days of unhealthy ozone, No. 1 in airborne carcinogens, No. 1 in ozone components, No. 1 in the nation in toxic air releases; and Houston, since Governor Bush has been governor, has surpassed Los Angeles, now the dirtiest air in the nation, the city with No. 1 in smog.

I ask you, Madamee Comptroller, is that a record to run on or to run from?

RYLANDER: Let's give the full picture. It is much better. There were decades of Democrat neglect...


PRESS: Much better.

RYLANDER: ... decades of Democrat neglected to say -- absolutely -- we are -- let me tell some other No. 1s. We are No. 1 in reducing toxic pollutants. Under Governor Bush, we have reduced emissions 11 percent, industrial emissions being reduced 11 percent. Governor Bush signed two clean air acts that the environmental defense fund pointed to one of those as being the strongest in the nation. You know, we had...

PRESS: Madame Comptroller, five years ago.

RYLANDER: Let me say...

PRESS: Five years ago, Los Angeles had the dirtiest air in the nation, California had the dirtiest air. Now, it's Texas and it's Houston. How can you possibly claim that as progress?

RYLANDER: Our water is better. Our air is cleaner. Our emissions are more reduced under Governor Bush. Let me tell you -- and going back to priorities that Mr. Mauro was talking about earlier -- that Garry was talking about earlier -- you know, we have more hungry children are being fed now than ever before. We have more that are insured now than uninsured than ever before. And on our uninsured, we spent almost a $1,000 per uninsured in the state.

Teachers are better paid than they've ever been before. Teacher got a $3,000 across-the-board pay increase. Education, our most precious resource, our children -- and that certainly is vital for our children. And let me just say this one. On education, it was Al Gore's goals 2000 that wanted to look at minorities versus non- minorities, and the economically-disadvantaged versus economically- advantaged in the state of Texas. Now, minorities...

PRESS: Madame Comptroller, let's save something, if I can. Let's save some stuff for the second half. OK, and we'll pick up on those issues. And we'll talk about health and we'll talk about education. And we'll talk, when we back, about whether it's fair to pick on Texas, little old Texas.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

What goes around comes around. When Governor Mike Dukakis ran for president in 1998, Vice President George Bush attacked his record in Massachusetts. In 1992, president George Bush attacked Governor Bill Clinton's record in Arkansas. And now the shoe is on the other foot, as Al Gore attacks Governor George Bush's record in Texas. Is it fair play and what's the real story? Helping us sort it out tonight, Democrat and former candidate for governor, Garry Mauro, Texas co-chair of the Gore campaign, and Republican Texas State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, a Bush supporter -- Bob.

NOVAK: Garry Mauro, are you familiar with the Proud of Texas Committee?


NOVAK: What is it?

MAURO: It's a group of white males that have decided they are going to answer any attacks on Texas.

NOVAK: And it isn't a Republican committee. Will Davis (ph) is a former chairman of the Democratic Party. Mark Stiles served in the legislature for 16 years as a Democratic legislator. Michael Levy is a publisher of the "Texas Monthly." And they have written Al Gore a letter saying they're disturbed, they're troubled by the extent that the Gore campaign seems to be willing to distort the reputation of the state of Texas in order to defeat George Bush.

As a loyal Texan, Mr. Mauro, aren't you a little disturbed about this trashing of your state?

MAURO: Well, Bob, let's be candid. There's no arguing with facts. Whether we like it or not -- we were talking about the environment right now -- the fact is, we are in the seventh year of George Bush's office -- his term in office -- and we still don't have a state implementation plan for clean air. That's why Houston air is dirtier than Los Angeles, California has got a very strong, very aggressive implementation plan for clean air. We don't. That's why we have got dirty air.

NOVAK: Well, let me...

MAURO: Wait a second. No, Bob, I let you finish. You let me finish.

Secondly, the fact is, we are 30th in what we pay teachers. We -- the fact is, we are in the 40s in everything that matters in the state. Even -- I'm a graduate of the University of Texas law school -- and a proud graduate of Texas A&M University. Higher education: We are 25th in what we spend on higher education. Those aren't things to be proud of. And I like Mike Levy and Bill Miller and Will Davis and all those people. They're just wrong. We ought to...

NOVAK: Let me...

MAURO: We ought to re-prioritize how we spend money in Texas and spend money on people.

NOVAK: Garry, let me appeal to your Texas patriotism. I know you're a Texas patriot. Laura Quinn, who is the communications director of the Democratic National Committee, said on July 7th -- quote -- "Texas has been deemed an epidemic breeding ground. We highly recommend that those traveling to Texas immediately check to insure their immunization shots are current before entering the state" -- end quote. Do you approve of that?

MAURO: Well, Bob, I think that was a sense of humor. I think that's what you would call a tongue-in-cheek press release. I mean, the fact is, we have serious health problems in the state. But more particularly -- and that is what this is all about -- when we had a six billion dollar surplus -- see, I understand not spending money for a lot of programs when we have a shortfall in money, but when you have got a six billion dollars surplus, being 41st, being 40th, being 30th, being 35th, that's not good enough.

Texans want to be in the top 10 in education. They want to be in the top 10 in the health care they provide for their kids. We are 50th in benefits for teachers. We don't even give teachers in Texas health insurance. And that's ridiculous. PRESS: Carole Rylander, let me ask you about -- in terms of priorities -- and let's stick with health. You mentioned it. And Garry just mentioned it.

RYLANDER: Yes. Yes. Yes.

PRESS: According to the Census Bureau now -- not Al Gore -- according to the Census Bureau, Texas ranks No. 50 of all the 50 states when it comes to residents having health insurance, and No. 49 out of 50 states in the percentage of kids having health insurance. So, what are we to conclude...

RYLANDER: Let's...

PRESS: ... that health is just not a priority of Governor Bush's in Texas?

RYLANDER: No, no, health is a priority, and our people are No. 1 priority. And it's been improving. And those priorities are set with the governor and with the legislature. And of course, we have a Democrat House. But let's talk health. This last session, there was $5.4 million more for immunizations in the state of Texas. We're immunizing children more than ever before. And the ever before is in the Democrat administration.

Let's talk -- you mentioned insurance. I just completed a study in my office, and we did a study of the uninsured in Texas: 4.9 million uninsured Texans in Texas, we spent $4.7 billion. So on the uninsured -- this was a '98 -- '98 figures. On the uninsured in Texas, we're spending almost a thousand dollars per uninsured.

Now, that means they may be uninsured but they're not going untreated. Let me tell you, there are more children insured in the last session...

PRESS: But let's...

RYLANDER: Let me finish one more fact. In the last session of the legislature there was action taken to insure 420,000 more children.

I want -- I'm a momma and a grandmomma. I want every single child, every family insured in Texas.

PRESS: Well, the question is...

RYLANDER: And we're making great progress and we're taking care of those that are uninsured.

PRESS: Madame Comptroller, I didn't question your commitment. The question is Governor Bush's commitment. And I want to read you just a couple of sentences -- please, please -- from The New York Times April of this year, April 11 this year.

Quote: "Since Governor Bush became governor in 1995 he has not made health a priority his aides acknowledge. 'He has never made a speech on the subject,' his press office says."

This is the governor's own office who says it's not a priority, he never made a speech on the subject. He doesn't care about kids that don't have health insurance?

RYLANDER: I know Governor Bush and I know he does care, and I know health care is a priority and that children are priority. On one of those things I got interrupted on earlier, when I was talking about education, how African-American students have improved their TA (ph) scores 92 percent, our Hispanic students have improved 71 percent -- economically disadvantaged have improved 74 percent. But let me go back to health. Immunizations, the first lady has made this -- not only has the governor made it a priority, the first lady had made immunizations a priority. We're feeding more hungry children in this state than ever before. And it was the Al Gore administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, that that four years ago cut back on those -- on the reimbursements to feed the hungry children.

In the state of Texas, we're feeding...

NOVAK: All right. Wait a minute...

RYLANDER: ... 100 percent of those hungry children...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. I've got to get in...

RYLANDER: ... during the school year. And in the summertime, with rural areas, we're paying non-profits not only for transportation but for the food.

NOVAK: I've got to get...

RYLANDER: We have 163 more sites for feeding these children than ever before.

PRESS: Hold it! Hold it!

NOVAK: I've got to get a question for Garry. What is happening here with this attack on Texas was explained, I thought, by your governor, George W. Bush, on Thursday night on "LARRY KING LIVE." and let's listen to it.


BUSH: This is an administration that has -- that has -- any time there's any threat to their power they tear people down. That's just the way it is.


NOVAK: You're an experienced party politician, Garry Mauro. Isn't -- hasn't that been the Gore style going all the way back to 1988, just attack, attack, attack, tear down and tear down?

MAURO: Bob, I don't see it that way. I see this as a campaign of priorities, and the best way to find out what George Bush's priorities are going to be when he's president is look at what his priorities are when he was governor.

And you know, I -- I just heard Carole taking credit for the 420,000 kids that are going to be covered with health insurance. The fact is his own proposal only covered 200,000.

NOVAK: We're out of time.

MAURO: The Democrats forced him to go with 400,000.

NOVAK: Out of time. Thank you very much, Garry Mauro. Thank you very much, Carole Rylander. And Bill Press and I, who are not from Texas, will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, it looks like we might have a new president, a new vice president who both live in Texas: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. We had a president from Texas named Lyndon Johnson. We had one called George Bush Sr.

Do you think this state, where all the people from Delaware and New Jersey are coming to live, might not be such a bad state after all.

PRESS: Bob, I think the only thing worse than one Texan on the ticket are two Texans on the ticket.


PRESS: I don't think -- I'll never go to Texas, will I?


NOVAK: Well, Lloyd Bentsen was on the ticket, too, wasn't he?

PRESS: Yes, he was, but not -- not at the same time. I think Dick Cheney is a good guy. I think he'd be a strong choice for George Bush. We'll have to see.

But you know, Bob, George Bush has invited people to look at his record in Texas, and I hope this campaign comes down to compare his record in Texas, and Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's record in the White House. Gore wins by a landslide.

NOVAK: Let me tell you something. Michael Dukakis did not lose that election because of his record in Massachusetts.


And this election, I predict, will not be decided on the statistics of the health program in the state of Texas.

PRESS: You may be right about that.

From the left -- have a good weekend -- I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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