Real Problems for Real People

As a potential President of the United States, George W. Bush possesses the thinnest résumé of public service of any candidate in recent memory (except perhaps for that other Texan, Ross Perot, who thankfully never came close to electability). The consequences of Mr. Bush’s six years as governor shouldn’t be terribly difficult to report, yet he has largely avoided the kind of scrutiny that would allow voters to wisely judge his fitness for the nation’s highest office. We have heard much less about his performance than about his personality.

Unlike Al Gore, Mr. Bush has escaped the assumption that anything he asserts is probably false (although it may well be incomprehensible). Rarely is any claim that the Texas governor makes about himself or his achievements subjected to the harsh parsing so routinely applied to the Vice President’s remarks.

The superficial journalistic examination of the Republican nominee has permitted him wide latitude to re-invent himself whenever convenient as a “compassionate conservative,” a “reformer with results” and, most recently, as someone with “real plans for real people.” These smart slogans may or may not render Mr. Bush more marketable-a topic that excites hours of discussion among pundits and analysts-but what basis do they have in reality? Unfortunately, any and all pertinent facts must be excavated from an intellectual landfill of campaign reportage.

Fortunately, an organization called Texans for Public Justice recently released a report called the State of the Lone Star State: How Life in Texas Measures Up. T.P.J., as it is known among Austin pols, is a liberal-leaning but scrupulously nonpartisan outfit that roasts Democrats and Republicans alike for their subservience to special interests and their abuses of the people’s trust. Their new compilation of 150 “indicators” of the quality of life in their home state is not explicitly intended as a measurement of Mr. Bush’s record. “The Texas-sized problems presented here are the bipartisan byproducts of a working majority of Texas politicians burying their heads in the sand for decades,” as the introduction notes. “Governor George W. Bush did not create these problems-nor did he take major steps to solve them.”

That is a kindly understatement. Citing specific and timely data, the study shows where Texas ranks among the states on a wide variety of social, economic and environmental issues-and the results aren’t flattering.

It is hard to understand, for example, how Mr. Bush can proclaim himself “proud” of his environmental record when his state ranks first or second in nearly every measure of air, water and toxic degradation. Texas is No. 1 in toxic and cancerous manufacturing emissions, toxic air and water emissions, carbon dioxide emissions and animal manure dumped in its waterways; it ranks second in ozone pollution exposure, cancerous water pollution and hazardous chemical spills. Many of these statistics may be explained by the state’s enormous petrochemical and agricultural industries, but the governor has eased rather than tightened regulation of the polluters. On his watch, Houston surpassed Los Angeles as the smoggiest municipality in the nation. And his state currently ranks 49th in per-capita spending on water quality. The “voluntary” approach he favors in curbing industrial filth doesn’t seem to be working.

The wealth accumulated by Texas industrialists is lavished on Mr. Bush’s campaign treasury, but little seems to be devoted to the “compassionate” purposes with which he says he identifies. His state ranks first in adults without health insurance, second in poor children without health insurance and in children without immunization. Despite the governor’s professed concern for the unborn, those still in the womb don’t necessarily fare too well, either; only four states provided less prenatal care than Texas.

The rates of malnutrition are high, too. Only New Mexico and Mississippi did worse, and only Oregon has a larger percentage of people going hungry. Meanwhile, funding for food stamps in Texas declined precipitously as a result of welfare “reform.” Spending on public health there was among the lowest in the nation, and the poor in Texas were among the least likely to receive Medicaid benefits-because the state government hasn’t spent a dime in federal funds to ensure that eligible families are enrolled.

By now everyone knows that Texas is No. 1 in capital punishment. It also boasts the highest percentage of adults incarcerated. These numbers may bear some relationship to the fact that-regardless of Mr. Bush’s vaunted commitment to “leave no child behind”-his state graduates students from high school at a rate worse than 44 other states and suffers more dropouts than all but four states. (Elementary-level pupils are doing somewhat better, but the T.P.J. study and others have noted that those improvements owe less to Mr. Bush’s endeavors than to a decade of reforms before he took office.)

Amid dozens of appalling statistics, there is one that helps explain the governor’s political success: Texas has the fourth-lowest rate of voter registration anywhere.