AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Many Texas Republicans credit George H.W. Bush for putting their party on the map with his strong political beginnings in Harris County. The 41st President died Nov. 30, 2018 at age 94. He chaired the Harris County GOP in the 1960s.
“He was just a great person because really, in many counties, they didn’t even have a Republican Party,” Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said.
Back then, Texas was a deeply Democratic state.
“As he said, you could have chapter meetings for the Republican Party in a phone booth,” Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, said. “There were not many people that were gravitating towards the Republican Party and he really helped to turn the tide in this state. He helped to make Republicanism a more acceptable party for Texans, so in so many ways, he was a pioneer.”
When former President Bill Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 election, Jeff Eller remembers the how welcoming Bush and his team were towards incoming former President Bill Clinton.
“They were unbelievably gracious,” Eller, who served in the Clinton White House as deputy assistant to the president and director of media affairs, said. “We had just defeated them and there is nothing that says you have to allow anyone into the White House before noon on Jan. 20. The transition is as you want it to be. They could not have been more gracious and more helpful and I was really struck by that.”
Bush’s granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, reflected on the bond Clinton and Bush ended up building during a June speaking engagement focused on female incarceration and criminal justice in Austin.
“You know, my grandpa could have been filled with anger because Bill Clinton beat him and he was, he didn’t want to lose, he wanted to keep being president, but instead he, they worked together on a lot of issues,” she said.
Updegrove, who is also the author of The Last Republicans: Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, describes the relationship between father and son “a love story.”
“It’s a very complicated love story, but it’s a love story nonetheless,” he said. “It’s an extraordinarily close relationship. There are a lot of rumors about how there’s great competition between the two of them and great tension, but in fact, that’s not the case at all.”
Updegrove says Bush’s ways weren’t forced onto his son when he entered office.
“When George W. Bush was in office, his father didn’t want to get in his way and he didn’t want to offer him unsolicited advice, knowing full well the burdens of the presidency himself and he didn’t need one more person weighing in on his presidency,” Updegrove said.
“President Bush was always committed to making sure that the people of Houston had safe streets, good schools – preserve the natural environment of the city and that we had the strongest port in the nation,” Republican Congressman John Culberson said earlier this year before the midterm election in which he lost his seat. “President Bush did a great deal to ensure that the Houston airport is now one of the biggest and best in the country.”