George H.W. Bush cuts political teeth in Houston, goes on to make mark in US

'He certainly changed and transformed the world,' former Texas senator says

(Photo by Eric Draper/White House via Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Draper/White House via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

HOUSTON – George Herbert Walker Bush had a life full of successes, but it all began in Houston after he moved his family.

Bush cut his political teeth when he became the chairman of the Harris County Republican Committee in 1962.

"George Bush really started the Republican movement here in Texas," former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said. "It was a Democratic state, and yet when he moved to Houston, he became a leader in the Republican organization. It was very grassroots. He was the county chairman."

Then, in 1964, Bush made a run for the U.S. Senate and lost.

"Two years later, he ran for Congress as a Republican for the district around Harris County and served two terms, and one of the controversies was that he voted yes to the Civil Rights Bill (Act) of 1968," Hutchison said. "He ran for Congress as a Republican and was elected, but even that was a big surprise. He had to work really hard to bring people into the Republican primary."

President Richard Nixon convinced Bush in 1970 to leave his Congressional seat and run for the Senate again.

That race was covered by a young reporter who would later become a star of the Republican Party.

"I really got to know him when I was a news reporter with KPRC, covering the Bush/Bentsen race for the United States Senate," Hutchison said.

After Bush lost to Lloyd Bentsen, Nixon appointed him U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bush then also served as ambassador to China and as director of the CIA.

Bush announced in May 1979 that he would be running for the White House, but he eventually bowed out of the race. Ronald Reagan, however, picked Bush as his running mate.

"He runs for president, ends up coming in second to Ronald Reagan," Hutchison said. "Reagan ends up choosing him as his vice presidential running mate, as President Bush says, 'Out of the clear blue sky,' and he serves with Reagan as vice president for eight years."

But in August 1998, it was Bush's time to take center stage as he accepted the Republican nomination for president. He defeated Michael Dukakis and his longtime rival, Bentsen, in November, with Dan Quayle by his side.

Bush dealt with world-changing events over the next four years.

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell.

"He certainly changed and transformed the world when he managed the Berlin Wall coming down, and the Soviet Union imploding," Hutchison said. "It was the end to a Cold War without a hot war, and that was the amazing diplomacy of President Bush that allowed that to happen."

In June 1990, Bush declared "no new taxes" while negotiating a new budget.

Operation Desert Storm began just months after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

"President Bush ran that military engagement in a very thoughtful and strategic fashion, meaning that he worked through the United Nations," said Nancy Beck Young, professor and chair of the University of Houston Department of History. "Every step of the way, he built a coalition that included every ally of the United States, as well as several Middle Eastern countries," she said.

Though a cease-fire was declared one month later, Bush still faced criticism.

"He should've gone all the way into Baghdad, and he should've removed Saddam Hussein from power," Young said. "He didn't. Because it all goes back to the coalition he amassed to support the invasion, should it have become necessary, and the coalition was not interested in removing Saddam from power."

In 1992, Bush lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Bill Clinton, but they two worked together years later as they raised funds in 2005 for the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, and again in 2008 to aid reconstruction after Hurricane Ike.

"His contributions are almost beyond count, and certainly I consider myself someone who has benefited from the life of giving that he had and how he showed us all to be so generous, not only with our family and friends but with our community, and the greater community et al.," Young said.

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