George W. Bush is not a detail-oriented, hands-on manager, said both Democrats and Republicans from Texas, along with journalists from the state, at a forum Thursday. But they agreed he has compiled an impressive record in crafting public policy on a bipartisan basis as Texas governor.
Bush "really works from a big-picture angle," said Albert Hawkins, Texas budget director. "The governor is not totally hands-off, though. He stays engaged, but not at the detail level."
In terms of leadership style, Bush favors a "very flat organization," Hawkins said. "Senior staff get direct access to the governor any time we want or need it. There's just not this single focal point that everything goes through."
The forum, sponsored by the Transition to Governing Project, a joint project of the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution, was the fourth and last in a series looking at the governing styles and approaches of the leading presidential candidates.
Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Bush supporter, noted that he is the only one of the current candidates with executive experience in government, even though he had only held public office for five years before launching his presidential campaign.
"The years get mentioned and I don't think they're very relevant," Engler said. "I'm not worried that somehow he's not prepared."
The panelists noted that the Texas governor is relatively limited in political powers under the state's constitution. But several said he has made the most of his authority, often through the force of his own personality.
"People who disagree with him on almost every issue say, "I can't help but like the guy,' " said Jay Root, Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
"I compare him to (former Texas governor) John Connally as far as his ability to make the system work and bring the legislature to his agenda," said Bill Ratliff, a Republican who chairs the Finance Committee of the Texas Senate. "It's a great indication of his leadership skills that he can take a constitutionally weak office and do as much with it as he's done."
"He does come and look for bipartisan support," said Steven Wolens, a Democrat who chairs the State Affairs Committee of the Texas House of Representatives. "He doesn't look for blame, he looks to bring people together." Wolens acknowledged, however, that Texas is a generally conservative state without the sharp partisan differences that tend to characterize politics at the national level.