By: W. Gardner Selby|
Reggie Bashur, a straight-talking counselor to Republican officeholders including the party's three Texas governors since Reconstruction, proved a mentor to many and ambassador to the press for more than 25 years.
Republican guru Karl Rove said "there's virtually no one big on the Texas (political) stage" who did not benefit from Bashur's advice and called him an "unerring source of good advice and counsel to anybody comfortable asking him for it."
Bashur, who succumbed to brain cancer Saturday at the age of 59, once told a reporter that so-called spin doctors must tell the truth, saying: "Obviously, you have a viewpoint, but the reporters know that. You get into trouble where you purposely misstate the facts or -- even worse -- lie."
Bashur added that interactions with reporters had become more cynical in his era. "When I first got into it, the word `spin' was not used."
Bashur, born in Brooklyn in April 1952 , had been an Ohio reporter and Washington press secretary for New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey before moving to Texas with his wife, Jan Powell, who hailed from Dallas.
In 1985, Bashur joined Republican oilman Bill Clements' comeback campaign for governor.
Former George W. Bush adviser Mark McKinnon, who worked for the defeated Democrat, Gov. Mark White, recalled Bashur as tough yet diplomatic. "In a world without a lot of it, Reggie carried a big old backpack full of honor and integrity," McKinnon said.
As Clements' state press secretary, Bashur helped guide the crusty governor through some turbulent turns, including Clements' acknowledgment of his approval of illicit past payments to Southern Methodist University football players from a booster's slush fund. The NCAA shut down the school's football program in 1987 over the fund.
Jay Rosser, a Clements deputy press secretary, said Bashur summoned Capitol reporters to his office some Friday afternoons for bull sessions about issues of the day. Another deputy press secretary, Rossanna Salazar, called Bashur gifted under fire. "In the time it takes most of us to view email on an iPhone," Salazar said, "Reggie could develop a strategy and verbalize it in a direct, forceful manner."
In 1989, Bashur resigned to manage former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance's bid for governor. Hance's team, including press secretary Mark Sanders, hoped to make a runoff against big-spending West Texan Clayton Williams. But as "war room" staff members stared at early primary-night returns, Bashur threw in the towel, strolling in with a white towel over his shoulders and hurling it across the room. "Boys and girls, this puppy is over," Bashur said.
Bashur went on to advise Williams, who lost to Democrat Ann Richards. He later aligned with a leading Democrat, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, but only long enough to be listed as the contact on his arrival announcement; he quit within days.
Bashur was soon drawn back to Republican politics and helped in winning races including Austinite Carole Keeton Rylander's run for the Texas Railroad Commission and Bush's 1990 election, after which Bashur joined Bush's office as a troubleshooting deputy.
Bashur and another Bush aide, Cliff Johnson, left in mid-1995 to lobby, joining the many professionals who hover in Capitol halls, alternately jawing with passersby and on cell phones. While he had 20 clients at his death, Bashur also continued to counsel officeholders, often after hours.
Johnson, a former legislator, remembered his first sighting of the rumpled bearish dark-eyed fellow at a January 1987 gathering of Clements' gubernatorial staff. Other aides did not object to Clements' growl that an agency, which one now lost to memory, needed to be shuttered.
Then Bashur spoke, saying: "What? Are y'all crazy? You can't do that." His point : No agency could be whacked willy-nilly and Clements might needlessly be picking a fight.
"He just went wild," Johnson said, and then when Clements persisted in hammering his position, Bashur pounded back. "He got even more animated," Johnson marveled.
This son of a gun, Johnson thought, was worth knowing.
Bashur is survived by his wife and three children.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 26, 2012