Bush to host 18 Republican governors

AUSTIN, Texas, Reuters

President-elect George W. Bush on Saturday is to host 18 Republican governors at his ranch, to thank them for their early campaign support and enlist them in his push for school reforms.

“I look forward to meeting with my former fellow governors to discuss the challenges America is currently facing. Governors provide a unique perspective because they see national problems on a local level,” Bush said Friday in a written statement on the meeting.

Among the governors scheduled to take part in a tour of Bush’s ranch outside Crawford, Texas and a lunch meeting are governors George Pataki of New York, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Jim Gilmore of Virginia and John Engler of Michigan.

Bush’s brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, was not scheduled to attend.

Bush will meet Democratic governors “shortly,” Fleischer said Friday, but he said Bush wanted to begin with the Republican group.

“The governors were with him very early in 1999, at a time when he looked like he could have a very difficult primary campaign with many other people who were running against him … So I think he also wants to express his thanks at this time,” Fleischer said.

Education reform will be the first legislative priority for Bush after he is inaugurated Jan. 20, Fleischer said. Bush also used a meeting with high-tech executives on Thursday to call attention to his aims.

Bush ran during the campaign on proposals to improve public schools by increasing their accountability for student performance and allowing parents to move students from public schools deemed to be failing.

Referring to Saturday’s meeting, he said, “I think it’s an early sign of how President-elect Bush will govern,” in seeking views from outside Washington.

Although Bush regards education as a local issue, he believes there is a role for the federal government and plans to propose “comprehensive” school reform legislation.

“But to implement it, he wants to work directly and closely with the governors, because they can best deliver educational excellence for our children,” Fleischer said.

Bush arrived at the ranch Friday afternoon, after spending time packing at the Texas governor’s mansion. He is to return to Austin on Monday to begin moving out of the mansion.

Moving trucks are to arrive Monday to bring some of his belongings to Washington and some to the ranch.

Bush is also to meet Monday with a bipartisan group of leaders of U.S. House of Representative and Senate defense committees for a discussion of military issues including Bush’s plan to build a national missile defense system.

Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, defense secretary nominee Donald Rumsfeld and Bush’s choice for national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, are scheduled to accompany Bush.

Among the lawmakers scheduled to attend are Senate armed services committee Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican and Democratic committee member Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.