Texans no longer rule the roost in Washington
President Bush's old Texas gang just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Perhaps that's part of the reason he "reluctantly" accepted the resignation of the Cabinet member who had given new definition to the term "embattled": Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
It's a natural tendency for presidents --- particularly those strongly identified with a specific state --- to surround themselves with aides who helped propel the early stages of their political careers. Jimmy Carter had his band of Georgians, Ronald Reagan his clan of Californians and Bill Clinton his clique from Arkansas.
Similarly, it's a seemingly inexorable process for the ranks of these homies to thin, especially when the president serves a second term. In some cases, the local yokels find themselves out of their league in Washington. Occasionally --- as with Gonzales, who had served Bush since the latter's first days as governor of Texas --- scandal does them in. Most of the time, the demands of the work simply wear them out.
As Bush prepared to take office in early 2001, scores of stories were written about a trio of aides from his Texas days known as the "Iron Triangle" --- Joe Allbaugh, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes.
Allbaugh headed FEMA for awhile, ...
but he's long since moved to the private sector. Rove, the advisor Democrats most loved to hate, is almost out the door. Hughes officially served as White House counselor for about 18 months, stayed in close touch with Bush after returning to Texas and played a major role in his 2004 re-election campaign. She's now undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, a job that hasn't been much in the news of late. She may still have Bush's ear, but her impact on the administration's workings is much diminished.
Hughes' shoes as counselor to the president were eventually filled by Dan Bartlett, who worked for Bush in various capacities after graduating from the University of Texas in the mid-1990s and who could swap stories with him about the Longhorn football team. But Bartlett, citing the demands of having three young children, left the White House this summer.
Other Texans who have come and gone include Don Evans, who was secretary of commerce, and Harriet Miers, who happily toiled in anonymity in several White House posts until Bush improbably tapped her for a Supreme Court vacancy in the fall of 2005. After a torrent of questions from all sides about her qualifications caused Bush to withdraw the nomination, she quietly departed from his staff early this year.
And then there were the McClellan boys --- Scott, who generally underwhelmed as the White House's chief spokesman for about three years, and Mark, who received higher marks in his stint as head of the Food and Drug Administration and, after that, as chief of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
For those keeping track, a handful of Bush's buddies from the Lone Star State remain on the watch in Washington. These include Margaret Spellings, who served as Bush's domestic policy advisor before becoming secretary of education, and Gordon Johndroe, spkesman for the National Security Council.
And then there's Israel Hernandez, a top official at the Commerce Department who, when he joined Bush as an all-purpose aide in 1993, famously made sure that the boss had a steady supply of Altoids mints.
If Hernandez decides to call it quits on his government career anytime soon, one can only imagine how melancholy the leader of the free world will feel.
-- Don Frederick