Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2004 / 23 Kislev, 5765

William McKenzie

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Bush's new team has a Texas feel | It feels different. The new Bush administration, that is. And I like it.

So far, this new bunch seems more like what Bush used in Austin - for the larger good. Here me out:

As governor, Bush had aides like press secretary Karen Hughes and chief of staff Joe Allbaugh, people who clearly spoke for and acted on behalf of their boss. Others didn't have to wonder what the governor was trying to accomplish. It was pretty clear.

More than controlling their message, the team knew how to come up with a plan and push it. Usually that meant only a few priorities, like overhauling the state's education code and reforming juvenile justice laws. They were a focused bunch. And more often than not, they got their priorities through the legislature.

Margaret Spellings, the president's new education secretary, was part of that Austin team. She advised Bush on education issues before he even became governor.

So was Harriet Miers, the new White House legal counsel. She was Bush's lawyer at one point and later head of the Texas Lottery Commission.

And, of course, Alberto Gonzales, the new attorney general, was in Bush's inner circle. He was general counsel and secretary of state before then-Gov. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court.

Now, some say the president's just nominated a bunch of toadies. Yes-men and yes-women. That's been the main critique of his recent appointees, including Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

I don't think toadiness is going to be a problem, though. Look at Spellings. The people I interviewed repeatedly used the same words to describe her: gutsy and smart. "Anyone who doesn't think Margaret Spellings won't tell him what she thinks doesn't know Margaret Spellings," chuckled former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, a fellow Republican who worked frequently around Bush and Spellings in Austin.

Similarly, Miers is no shy one. Her public demeanor is quiet, but she served on the Dallas City Council when council sessions often got heated. She knows how to make her views known. Bush has likened her to a "pit bull in size 6 shoes."

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What these appointees show me is that President Bush feels more comfortable as president. He's putting together a team that he trusts implicitly, more than one that contains superstars to give him legitimacy.

Recall there were great questions about Bush's abilities when he first came to Washington. Florida had tainted everything, and some thought he was a lightweight. Plus, he had no real Washington experience.

So the new president went for the Colin Powells and Donald Rumsfelds to add that all important Washington quality to his Cabinet: gravitas.

Washingtonians knew those veterans, so when they sat around their tables at restaurants along Connecticut Avenue, they could reassure themselves this George Bush wasn't going to drive the country into a ditch. We all like that kind of reassurance, but Washington particularly needs it. It's an insular city. People need to think they know the folks running the country. Otherwise, it's a bad administration

After gaining a second term, Bush doesn't have to worry so much about proving himself, although the first term had its share of really bad moves. He can start with a team that runs with him.

The president doesn't have to worry about the members of his team having their own agendas, something Bush ended up wondering about with a big name like John Ashcroft at Justice.

Will this second Bush team be any more successful? I don't know. Iran, Iraq and North Korea would scare the pants off anyone. And deficits could choke everything the president wants to do at home.

But I do know this: The president's team tells me he's finishing with a style he knows best. It's worked before. Let's hope it can again - for the country's sake.

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.


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