Cities vie to be site of Bush library

At least 6 Texas communities with ties to former governor hopeful

By ANDREW DEMILLO
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)
November 15, 2004

Not long after George W. Bush joined the 2000 presidential campaign, another race began for the then-Texas governor's presidential library and museum. At least six Texas communities have spent the past four years vying for Bush's presidential library. Their efforts have gone largely unanswered by the White House, but with a Bush victory in the recent presidential election they're hoping that will change.

Less than a month after his 1997 inauguration, Bill Clinton chose Little Rock as the home of his presidential library, set to open Thursday. Bidders for the next Bush library are hoping his decision comes as quickly. All of the sites, which range from university campuses to the Texas Rangers ballpark in Arlington, boast some connection to the 43rd president, who grew up in Midland and served as the Lone Star State's governor from 1995 until 2000.

Most of the library hopefuls have remained relatively low-key and quiet, patiently waiting until Bush calls for proposals. The one exception is Baylor University, which has been aggressively pursuing the library since Bush's election and is widely considered one of the front-runners. Baylor, a short drive from Bush's Crawford ranch, has been lobbying with Waco leaders to land the complex. The Baptist-affiliated college added a team of consultants, including former national archivist Don Wilson, who headed the library foundation for former President George H.W. Bush.

"We feel like it would enhance the campus," said Tommye Lou Vines Davis, director of the Bush library proposal for Baylor. "When you put a presidential library on your campus, it brings scholars, researchers and visitors who might not visit your campus otherwise."

The field of Bush library contenders includes the homes of two existing presidential libraries - Texas A&M in College Station, the home of the George H.W. Bush presidential library, and the University of Texas at Austin, home of the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library. In a letter to the president dated Aug. 1, 2001, the University of Texas president sketched out his vision for a library site, offering two tracts on the Austin site, including one adjacent to the Texas state Capitol.

"We do have the LBJ library," said Don Hale, the university's vice president for public affairs. "There is sort of a bipartisan potential there."

Texas A&M is taking a different approach, selling itself as a potential home for the first father-son presidential library complex. The school is even considering using land near the 90-acre site of the current Bush library and museum. "It's a unique family story," said Erle Nye, vice chairman of the Texas A&M University System board of regents. "It would allow each of the presidents to have their own heritage and traditions. It would also make a great combination for something very unique." Arlington has probably the most unusual of the library proposals, joining forces with the Texas Rangers to offer a 100-acre site. Bush served as the team's general managing partner before becoming governor in 1995.

"Obviously, these libraries need to be located in high-traffic areas," Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said. "It just seems like a perfect fit." Once mentioned as a potential contender, Texas Tech is not actively pursuing the library but wouldn't mind the new facility, a spokesman for the school said. Located in Lubbock, the school touts its West Texas location as an asset for the museum.

"Certainly the president is from Midland, and the president is from this part of the world," said Sally Logue Post, the school's associate director of communications and marketing. "Anytime you have a chance to house a presidential library, you're always interested." Another potential front-runner is Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which boasts first lady Laura Bush as one of its alumnae. Vice President Dick Cheney also served as a member of the school's board of trustees. Before Bush's inauguration, Thomas E. Barry, the school's vice president for executive affairs, was told by administrators that he was going to become an expert in presidential libraries. Since that day, Barry has visited eight of the presidential libraries and met with officials from the Clinton library in Little Rock.

"It's kind of an exciting thing, no matter what your politics are," Barry said. "The times are so rather unique given the Bush administration, and the story would be an interesting one to tell."