Stateline Story

GOP Govs Could Play Pivotal Roles For Bush

Texas Gov. George W. Bush's choice of Richard B. Cheney as his running mate ends speculation about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's preference for a number two person.

At an announcement ceremony in Austin, Texas, Bush said that Cheney's work as head of his vice presidential selection team had helped convince him that the former defense secretary was himself best qualified for the post.

Now the focus shifts to personalities who might be in line for Bush cabinet jobs, provided Bush is elected to follow his father into the Oval Office, a feat last accomplished by John Quincy Adams in 1824. There are several governors who appear to have better than average odds of joining a Bush II administration.

The leader of the Lone Star State placed a premium on compatibility and loyalty in winnowing down his list of VP candidates, and those criteria would probably determine prospective cabinet members.

Few governors have supported Bush as enthusiastically as Michigan Gov. John M. Engler, who has been singing Bush's praises since February 1999, when he drummed up support among fellow GOP chief executives at a National Governors' Association meeting.

One strike against Engler is his failure to deliver Michigan during the Republican presidential primary earlier this year. U.S. Sen. John McCain's victory over Bush in the Wolverine State was an embarrassing defeat for Engler, who'd boasted Michigan would be a "firewall" following "Straight Talk Express" victories elsewhere.

Engler has been mentioned as a potential White House chief of staff, even though the 51-year-old politician says he intends to serve out his third and last gubernatorial term, which ends in 2002. Asked if he sees himself playing a role in a George W. Bush administration, Engler told the Detroit News, "I don't think so, I really don't."

Michigan's governor has also pointed out that he has 5-year-old triplet daughters who need their father.

Another Republican governor quick to endorse Bush was Jim Gilmore, of Virginia. Unlike Engler, Gilmore played a pivotal role in derailing the surprising early momentum of the McCain bandwagon. Bush enjoyed a 9-point margin of victory in the Old Dominion's presidential primary, and Gilmore served as chairman of Bush's statewide campaign.

When Gilmore was campaigning for governor in 1997, Bush traveled to Virginia to keynote an important fundraising dinner.

"I think (Gilmore) is an incredible and capable man," one of Bush's brothers, Marvin Bush, said to the Fairfax Journal . "I have a policy of staying out of my father's and my brother's business, but I think he would make a great Cabinet secretary," added Marvin Bush, who lives in Alexandria, Va.

Northern Virginia is home to a number of telecommunications giants, including AOL. Not surprisingly, Gilmore, 50, is a staunch advocate of keeping the Internet tax-free. A former military intelligence officer and prosecutor, Gilmore, has been mentioned as a potential commerce secretary, attorney general and even CIA director.

"If Jim Gilmore called up President-elect Bush and said he wanted to be secretary of commerce, don't you think they would ask, `When would you like it announced?'" University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato told the Fairfax Journal,

If Gilmore left before his second term expires in January 2002, that would make him the first Virginia governor in 150 years to voluntary relinquish the post. Second-term Republican Montana Gov. Marc Racicot (pronounced roscoe) is another governor who jumped aboard the Bush bandwagon early on. Like Engler, Racicot, 52, was also drumming up support for Bush among Republican governors back in February 1999. Racicot's closeness to Bush can be traced to a trip the two governors took to Israel in November 1998.

Racicot's name is often linked to interior secretary, less frequently to attorney general. A more likely attorney general nominee is Republican Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. Texas and Oklahoma share borders, and that proximity had led to strong bonds between their respective chief executives.

A former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, Keating worked with the administration of George H. Bush as an associate attorney general and a general counsel to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Keating, 56, who like Bush presides over an oil-producing state, has also been mentioned as a potential energy secretary.

Looking to the Southwest, a longshot for a Bush cabinet slot -- possibly secretary of education -- is Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull. Hull didn't hurt her cause by making barbed comments about McCain during the Republican presidential primary, despite their Arizona connection. McCain's prickly personality has alienated some prominent Arizona state Republicans, and Hull is one of them.

"When you are president you have to build consensus and Gov. Bush would be better at that," Hull tartly informed The New Republic .

Another check in the plus column for Hull is the fact that her son, Mike Hull, was Bush's Arizona campaign manager. McCain took Arizona comfortably, but it's unlikely Bush has forgotten the high-profile support of Hull, 64. She was re-elected in 1998 with 61 percent of the vote.

One state chief executive who's made no bones about his interest in serving under George W. Bush is Republican Gov. Bill Graves, of Kansas, who has even discussed the possibility with his wife, Linda.

"If he called and if an offer was made and if the offer was significant enough, it's something we would give serious consideration to," Graves, 47, told the Topeka Capital-Journal . "And I say that very sincerely because for anyone at any time to walk away from their job as governor is a pretty big decision. It's one that you best not take lightly."

Rounding out the list are GOP governors Michael Leavitt, of Utah, and Tommy Thompson, of Wisconsin.

Leavitt, 49, is viewed as one of the Grand Old Party's stars. His second term expires in January 2001 and his quest for a third term is already under way. Leavitt's chances of taking a run at the U.S. Senate are nonexistent, thanks to Republican Senate fixtures Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett.

If the novelty of leading Utah has worn thin, Leavitt could be receptive to entreaties from Washington.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Thompson was making groundbreaking strides toward pruning Wisconsin's welfare rolls long before the rest of the nation picked up the drum beat. That could put Thompson's name atop a list to head Health and Human Services secretaries, although the post isn't generally perceived as a plum cabinet assignment.

If Bush becomes President-elect, he may be loath to tap GOP state chief executives for cabinet positions at all, National Journal White House correspondent Alexis Simendinger suggests.

"He may think his agenda is best served by leaving Republican governors in the states, as opposed to bringing them to Washington," Simendinger said. "As governor of Texas, Bush knows that states are where the policy action is these days."

Which could explain why there's no cabinet buzz surrounding Bush's younger brother, first-term Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 47. Bush has said he will not emulate President John F. Kennedy, who named his brother Robert as U.S. Attorney General.