Texas Gov Bush A Devolution Fan

George W. Bush, the popular Texas governor and early favorite of political handicappers for next year's Republican presidential nomination, strongly advocates shifting money and power away from Washington to state and local government.

In an interview with stateline.org, Bush said he believes accountability is heightened rather than diminished by the current trend toward government decentralization, or devolution.

"I'm a big believer in dispersing power," he said. "We've seen the one size fits all' solution out of Washington does not fit all. People in Texas know what's best for Texas.

"I don't appreciate the feds telling us what to do."

Bush, grandson of a senator and eldest son of former President George Bush, was reelected over Democrat Garry Mauro in a Texas-sized landslide last November, becoming the state's first governor to win a second four-year term. He currently enjoys an approval rating of 87 percent in his state.

Even before the election, Bush was the darling of political oddsmakers handicapping the field of Republicans expected to compete to be the party's standard-bearer in the Millennium race for the presidency.

Anticipating a question about his political plans, he volunteered that he is leaning toward throwing his hat in the ring.

"Yes, I'm interested. I told the (Texas) voters that before the last election. I said if that made them uncomfortable with me they should vote for someone else," he said.

The 52-year-old former oilman and baseball executive, who celebrated his second inaugural in Austin Tuesday, was interviewed at the annual convention of the Council of State Governments last month.

Bush said he had not made up his mind about exposing his family to the scrutiny that goes with a presidential run. "I can take scrutiny. I've been scrutinized before. But do you want to put your family through it?" he asked rhetorically.

Bush said he would make up his mind about running sometime this spring, and that if he runs, he would stress "compassionate conservatism" a theme he struck anew in his inaugural speech.

"Government can't solve all our problems. Economic growth can't solve all our problems. In fact, we're now putting too much hope in economics just as we once put too much hope in government. Reducing problems to economics is simply materialism," he said at his swearing-in ceremony.

Calling for a rebirth of neighborliness and volunteerism, Bush said the real answer to some of the problems that plague his state and the country can be found "in the hearts of decent caring people who have heard the call to love their neighbors as they would like to be loved themselves.

"We must rally the armies of compassion," he said.

Bush's agenda in the legislature, which reconvened on January 12, includes initiatives on crime and taxes. But his primary focus is to improve public school education..

Texas schoolchildren are tested on reading skills in the third, seventh, eighth and tenth grade. Bush wants testing extended into the later years of high school, but has softened a plan to require students to pass a state skills test in order to be promoted.

Instead of asking the legislature to make this an absolute requirement, he now backs a bill that links grade advancement to testing, but give local school districts the final say on whether students are promoted.

Bush believes he received a strong mandate from Texas voters to pursue his agenda, and made clear he intends to use it.

"They say you shouldn't use up your political capital too fast. Well, I won 68 per cent of the vote so I've got a lot of capital and I intend to spend it to push these programs through," he said.