DALLAS–George W. Bush, 53, is planning for a future in the White House and pointing to his four-and-a-half-year record as the governor of Texas to prove he is the right man to run the country.
That record shows concern for reforming education, a willingness to cut social services in the name of tax breaks and a determination to sharply limit women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gays.
Texas ranks last of all the states in percentage of women and children with health insurance–22 percent of women and 25.3 percent of children. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Texas ranks 48th in per capita funding for public health and 4th in delivery of social services. It ranks highest in the rate of babies born to teens–16.2 percent.
While Bush is the most visible elected official in Texas, he is far from the most powerful in the state with a weak-governor form of government. As a result, the governor has no authority to implement programs or enforce a political party’s platform. His main power lies in making appointments to state jobs and in championing causes.
50th in spending for teachers’ salaries
49th in spending on the environment
48th in per-capita funding for public health
47th in delivery of social services
42nd in child-support collections
41st in per-capita spending on public education
5th in percentage of population living in poverty
1st in air and water pollution
1st in percentage of working poor parents without insurance
1st in percentage of children without health insurance
1st in number of executions
1st in number of anti-choice laws passed in 1999
*Source: National Abortion Rights Action League
Since taking office in January 1995, Bush has appointed 3,041 people to state jobs including 1,117 women, 36.7 percent.
In terms of reproductive rights, Bush is resolutely anti-choice.
“We must reduce the number of abortions in Texas and America by encouraging adoption, by promoting abstinence, and by making sure Texas parents are involved in the major decisions of a minor child,” Bush says on his website.
He supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.
Bush has signed 13 anti-choice laws since taking office, including seven in 1999–tying Texas with Michigan as the most dangerous places for reproductive rights that year, according to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
“George Bush is the most anti-choice governor that Texas has had in recent memory,” said Sarah Wheat, director of public affairs for the Texas Abortion Rights Action League, the national affiliate. “We are extremely concerned about what he might do if elected to the White House. His selection of Dick Cheney just solidifies this ticket as the anti-choice ticket.”
Bush favors education in abstinence-only-until-marriage, and as the head of the Department of Health he appointed a like-minded doctor who at one time opposed the legalization of contraception. The state has allocated $6 million in abstinence education grants for 32 community organizations.
Highest rate of teen pregnancy
Texas still has the highest state rate of babies born to teens according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to state figures, of 342,199 live births in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available, 9.8 percent were to women age 18-19 and 6.4 percent were to women 17 or younger. The figures are very similar to those in 1995 when Bush took office.
Abortions, however, are down.
In 1998, Texas residents obtained 81,834 abortions, down from 87,501 in 1995. That’s due in part to declining access to abortions, says Wheat. Only 18 of Texas’s 254 counties have an abortion provider.
Bush touts adoption as an alternative to abortion and in 1996 he formed a committee to promote adoption and find ways to speed the process. The following year, he signed a law initiated by committee recommendations. According to Bush’s office, by 1998 the average wait for adoption was three months less than in 1996.
However, Bush opposes adoptions by gays and supported a bill in 1999 that would make it illegal for gays to adopt or become foster parents.
Opposes gay marriage
Bush also opposes marriage for gays, and has publicly criticized the New Jersey Supreme Court decision that struck down a ban on gays in the Boy Scouts. Bush even declined to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, a contingent of gays within his own political party, saying it would “only stir things up” for him to do so.
From the standpoint of pay equity, women have done fairly well under the Bush administration while at the same time posting one of the highest poverty levels for women and children in the nation. Texas ranked 8th after Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky with 17.4 percent of women living below the federal poverty line, compared with 14 percent nationwide.
“Texas, for women right now in terms of economics, is definitely a mixed picture. If you are at the bottom of the economic landscape, it’s not as good a place to be as some others,” said Linda Tarr-Whelan, president of the Center for Policy Alternatives a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit.
According to a 1998 study by the center, women made 78.5 percent of men’s earnings in Texas, making it the 11th highest-ranking state in the study. But 16.7 percent of women in Texas lived in poverty in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available. That’s a decline of less than one percent from 1990.
In the same study, Texas ranked last in percentage of women and children with health insurance–22 percent of women and 25.3 percent of children.
Last in insurance for women, children
Bush told USA Today in March that he had worked to “increase access to quality health care so no child is left behind.”
He did sign the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly called CHIP, a federal program that matches $2.84 federal dollars for each state dollar to provide low-cost health insurance to low-income children. But he delayed for two years to study the program, costing Texas $449 million in federal matching funds.
He also attempted to reduce the number of children covered by setting an eligibility requirement that household income be no more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, defined by the Census Bureau as $19,882 for a two-adult family with three children. State legislators held out for an eligibility requirement of no more than 200 percent.
Bush also fought to require separate applications for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid, making the process significantly more cumbersome and discouraging applications from qualified people. Lawmakers resisted and won out. Bush congratulated his legislative antagonist: “You shoved it down our throat.”
At bottom in health, social services
Bush wants to shift much responsibility for social services to faith-based and community organizations. But of the $1.2 billion allotted for welfare over the next two years, only $10 million of it is earmarked for such groups.
In 1997, Bush proposed privatizing welfare but failed to get an enabling waiver from the federal government. In 1999, he unsuccessfully supported a plan that included permanent disqualification for people with felony drug convictions and disqualification of benefits for children whose mothers did not report for job training.
In 1999, state welfare allowances did rise–from $188 to $201 per month.
Education: mixed results
Education is one of Bush’s primary issues, but results have been mixed.
From the beginning he supported plans for school vouchers and charter schools. The voucher plan died in the legislature. The charter school plan, which gave funds to more than 150 schools, has had mixed results. Some of the charters squandered their funding and shut down; others are still under review.
In 1999, Bush championed an accountability measure requiring all students to pass a state-approved standardized test in order to move up to the next grade. However, he did not end social promotion, as he often claims in campaign speeches. It was already against state law when he took office.
In 1999, Bush lobbied for a $2 billion tax cut but compromised for three-fourths of that, the remainder funding teacher salaries and social programs. Teachers got a $3,000 raise.
That same year, according to the National Education Agency, Texas ranked 38th of all states in teacher salaries, down two spots from 36th at the beginning of Bush’s first term in 1995.
State funding per student has increased during Bush’s tenure, from $4,510 to $6,180, an increase of 37 percent.
Bush supported an initiative to provide $19 million for Head Start programs and early childhood development centers, and a measure that appropriates money for summer reading programs for at-risk kids.
A study released July 25 by the Rand Corp., a California think tank, reported that Texas students are likely to do better on standardized tests than their counterparts in other states. The study, which analyzes results of National Assessment of Educational Progress tests from 1990-1996, straddles the administrations of Bush and his predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards. In 1998, Texas students did well on that national test, ranking slightly above average in reading.
Melinda Rice is a Texas-based journalist. She worked at newspapers in Texas, New York and Maryland before going freelance in 1997.