San Diego Union-Tribune


May 3, 2002

Bush wants Texas ally as ambassador to Mexico

By Jerry Kammer 

WASHINGTON President Bush intends to nominate longtime
Texas friend and political ally Tony Garza to be the next U.S.
ambassador to Mexico, sources familiar with the selection
process said.

Garza, a native of the Texas border town of Brownsville, was
secretary of state during Bush's first term as governor and also
served as Bush's adviser on Mexican issues. He is a member of
the Texas Railroad Commission, a powerful elected body that
regulates the state's oil and gas industry.

Bilingual, articulate and sometimes stylish in black ostrich-skin
cowboy boots, Garza, the 42-year-old son of a gas station
operator, has long been regarded as a rising star within the
Texas Republican Party. He would replace Jeffrey Davidow, the
ambassador held over from the Clinton administration.

Garza's ascent began in 1988, when he pulled off a surprise
victory in the race for county judge in Cameron County, where
Brownsville is the county seat.

"It was an unprecedented victory for a Republican in an area
that has long been a Democratic stronghold," said Tony Gray, a
staff member in the Texas House of Representatives.

Rene Oliveira, a Democratic state representative from
Brownsville, described Garza as "one of the few Republicans I
know who is comfortable in the barrio and in the boardroom."

Asked about Garza's ambassadorial qualifications, Oliveira
responded, "I think his bilingual, bicultural skills are perfect for
the job."

Oliveira said that if Garza gets the job, he would be able to
disarm the skepticism with which Mexican politicians have often
regarded Mexican-Americans who come south of the border on
political missions. The skepticism is rooted in a suspicion that
Mexican-Americans have an exaggerated sense of their
understanding of Mexico.

"I think Tony could overcome that easily," Oliveira said. "He
certainly had to deal with it on the border."

Should he become ambassador, Garza will face an even larger
problem: increasingly negative views of the United States in
Mexico. People who know him suggest he has what it takes to
help turn that around.

"Tony is real pragmatic, a problem solver, a guy who likes to fix
things," said Pete Gallego, another Democratic member of the
state Legislature. "He's a hard guy not to like."

A spokeswoman for Garza declined to comment yesterday.

Likewise, White House spokesman Ken Lisaius declined to
discuss Bush's thinking on the ambassadorship.

"We've made no announcements on that, and we'll make
announcements when we have announcements to make," Lisaius

Miguel Monterrubio, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy here,
said he would have no comment until the White House makes an
official announcement.

Such an announcement is just one part of a long process aimed
at winning confirmation by the Senate. Ambassadorial nominees
must also undergo extensive background checks.

Armand Peschard, director of the Mexico project at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, said Garza's close ties to
Bush would be valued in Mexico City.

"To have someone who can pick up the phone and call the
president is always a good thing," Peschard said.

Peschard said Garza would bring "added political value" to Bush,
who has made courting the growing Latino vote a top priority
and who ran for Texas governor with a Spanish-language slogan
that means "Together We Can."

After winning that race, Bush sought to build good will with his
Mexican-American constituents by making Garza his first
appointment. Speaking at Garza's swearing-in ceremony, Bush
said of his new secretary of state and adviser on border issues:
"As we continue to improve our relations with Mexico, Tony is
going to play an integral part."

On the short list with Garza for the Mexico City post were:

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, who is highly regarded in Mexico for
her promotion of cross-border ties and a generous U.S.
immigration policy.

Delal Baer, an expert on U.S.-Mexico relations at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.

Roger Wallace, president of a Texas investment and consulting
company active in Mexico and other parts of Latin America.