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Bush w clames to be a texan { January 20 2005 }

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"I've never forgotten where I came from. I've never forgotten the values of the great state of Texas. And after I give it my all for four more years," the president vowed, "I'm coming home."

Lone Star loyalists whoop it up
07:41 AM CST on Thursday, January 20, 2005

By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – The party of the season drew 10,000 whooping, hollerin' Texans. And yet the air was bittersweet Wednesday night at Black Tie and Boots, that over-the-top, big hair-and-rhinestone gala that grows every four years.

Sure, we've got four more years of Texans in charge over at the White House. But then what? A Californian? A Virginian? Dare one say, a New Yorker?

"I've seen three Texans in the White House," said Susie Hitchcock-Hall, who owns a candy store in Midland, the president's hometown in case anyone had forgotten. "The odds are against us."

The impending presidential dry spell made the evening more special – even if all the Lone Star chest-beating is wearing thin on those not lucky enough to call Texas home.

"We know they're sick of us here. We don't care," gushed Rob Allyn, a Dallas political consultant. "The more appalled they are, the happier we are."

"We're the center of the universe, and proud of it," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, who had some blunt advice for the grumblers: "Too bad, so sad. Our man is in for four more years!"

Inside Black Tie and Boots, the quadrennial bash for which the Texas State Society takes over a Marriott near the National Zoo, the excess was only slightly restrained.

Champagne flowed, the bands were hot and the celebrity-sightings, from retired Gen. Tommy Franks to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani,were fine.

President Bush took the stage with his wife and daughters, whom he introduced as "Dallas-born and Texas educated."

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, president of the Texas State Society, introduced the vice president, who introduced Mr. Bush.

"I've never forgotten where I came from. I've never forgotten the values of the great state of Texas. And after I give it my all for four more years," the president vowed, "I'm coming home."

President Bush sidestepped some political land mines, what with Gov. Rick Perry and a potential 2006 challenger, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, both sharing his stage. Sen. John Cornyn stood between the rivals, who'd traded jabs hours earlier over children's health insurance. But Mr. Bush heaped praise evenly on all three – though he offered any state lawmakers up from Austin some advice on his successor's behalf: "Just do what the governor tells you to do and all will be well."

It was a slice of Texas, almost more Texan than Texas itself. Lyle Lovett played the VIP dinner before the party. Asleep at the Wheel, Robert Earl Keen, Gary P. Nunn and even Fort Worth piano maestro Van Cliburn entertained a crowd that would have topped 10,000 if fire marshals hadn't laid down the law.

"If you had a president from Idaho, would you have this kind of response? No. They're turning up the Texan," said Eric Fox, a top lobbyist for Lockheed Martin, whose booth was among the more elaborate and popular.

Some guests waited two hours to get into the ballroom for this moment, and there were many unhappy customers when news came that it was at capacity. "I'll go over there and donate more money if it gets me out of this line," griped Gail Rader of Milford, N.J., who paid $2,000 for two tickets and spent an hour on line, to no avail.

Partygoers stood in line for instant photos with life-sized cutouts of George and Laura Bush beneath a miniature F-16 fighter and other craft. Souvenirs included heavy coins with Bush-Cheney '04 on one side and "Presidential inaugural" and renderings of, what else, a black tie and a pair of boots.

Competitor Raytheon was giving away small jars of "Gunpowder" – jalapeño powder for use in soup, eggs, chili and such. BP handed out heavy silver Texas-shaped key chains.

Peanuts defined the Carter years, jellybeans the Reagan era.

For Mr. Bush, it's boots and a cowboy hat, and these were everywhere at the Marriott, especially in the basement at the Texas Marketplace, where those in a shopping mood could pick up anything from a high-performance fishing rod to a $2,800 pair of alligator boots, a $5,000 Stetson or a $990 replica of the belt Mr. Bush likes to wear.

And who cared about money in this crowd? Some folks forked over $1,500 a ticket to scalpers who'd paid $125.

Steve Salch, a tax lawyer in Houston, picked up a new Stetson to ward off the snow at inauguration. It was a last-minute trip. "I could be in San Diego, I could be in Galveston," he said. "Part of my thinking was this may be the last chance in my lifetime."

Over at the "Dubya Duds" table, New Yorker Stuart Hotchkiss was doing a brisk business in $65 silk ties emblazoned with hats, boots and the president's middle initial. But he's started some new lines to keep his business viable, adding Rudy Giuliani ties and Hillary Clinton scarves. "People are looking at 2008 being a much broader horizon," he said.

Name a Texas icon. If it was portable, chances are it was there.

The Kilgore Rangerettes were on hand, as were some members of the Aggie Corps of Cadets and the Longhorn band. Security was so tight that guests kept asking Reveille's handlers if the Aggie mascot was a bomb-sniffing dog.

A pair of 12-foot cowboy boots overflowing with yellow roses flanked the main stage where the Bushes appeared.

Armadillos? Not one, not two but five scratching armored lumps of potential road kill – one named Scooter from the Fort Worth Zoo, and a set of quadruplets from Ralph Fisher's ranch in La Grange.

Longhorns? Four, including one from Mr. Fisher's herd named – what else? – J.R. And of course the world-famous Bevo.

The road-weary University of Texas mascot attended the Rose Bowl a couple weeks ago, and he entertained the crowd by rolling over on his side for grooming. Picture a 1,400-pound schnauzer.

"He's the symbol not just of Texas the university, but of Texas the state," said Colby Mueck, a UT senior and president of the Silver Spurs, the student group that cares for the beast. "It's hard to explain. If you're from Texas, your state means a lot more to you than it means to most people."

Staff writer Colleen McCain Nelson in Washington contributed to this report.


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