Dubya, We Knew You When...

With a homeboy headed for the White House, a handful of his Dallas pals have hopes of making their mark on Washington

Dallas vitamin entrepreneur Craig Keeland remembers vividly the cocktail party at which he reluctantly passed on a golden opportunity to pitch his products to George W. Bush.

In the early 1990s, Keeland, founder and chairman of the vitamin company Youngevity, became acquainted with Bush when the two men had offices in the same North Dallas building. Bush, then a minority owner and managing partner of the Texas Rangers, subleased space on the ninth floor of an unremarkable office tower one block southeast of the intersection of Loop 12 and the Dallas North Tollway. Keeland was just starting his company, a sort of Mary Kay-like enterprise for health supplements. Keeland's headquarters were on the 11th floor, two elevator stops above Bush's.

"Dallas is just a small town, and he was a really nice guy," says Keeland about the between-floor chats he engaged in with the man soon to be leader of the free world. As Bush moved from the Rangers to the governor's mansion to his quest for the White House, Keeland, a committed Republican, plied his former elevator cohort with campaign contributions.

The hotdog looks good, but lose the stiff shirt. Then-Gov. George W. Bush noshes at a Texas Rangers game with current team owner Tom Hicks in 1998.
AP/Wide World
The hotdog looks good, but lose the stiff shirt. Then-Gov. George W. Bush noshes at a Texas Rangers game with current team owner Tom Hicks in 1998.

This past year, Keeland earned the honorific title of "pioneer," the Bush campaign's name for roughly 200 fund-raisers who each directly or indirectly persuaded at least 100 others to contribute a total of $100,000 or more. Some 28 Dallasites were Bush pioneers, including oilman Ray Hunt, Chili's restaurant's Nancy Brinker, Dallas Olympics promoter Tom Luce, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback turned real estate developer Roger Staubach, former Dallas Housing Authority President Alphonso Jackson, and Texas Rangers owner and financier Tom Hicks.

It was at a party Hicks threw to raise money for then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's campaign in 1998 that Keeland believes he could have sold his antioxidants and other dietary supplements to George W. A perennially tanned, extremely fit 46-year-old divorcé, Keeland is not shy about pitching his pills to most people, even reporters.

"I guess you just want to get uglier and older and fatter," Keeland says at the end of a telephone conversation when his suggestion to keep a pack of his supplements as an after-lunch treat is turned down.

At the Hicks fete, however, Keeland was on his way to talk to Bush about his pills but abruptly pulled up short.

"I never approached George W.," he says with some regret still evident in his voice.

Why not?

"I was just about to talk to him, and then I heard Ken Cooper's voice," Keeland recalls. Cooper is the founder of Cooper Aerobics Center and has conducted Bush's physicals. "Cooper has argued first that you don't need antioxidants, and then he has said that brands don't matter. I don't agree, but I didn't want to argue. Why would George W. look at a finance man for advice on vitamins rather than Ken Cooper?"

As his pal ascends to the White House, Keeland can't help but imagine the sales he might have rung up if the president were taking his pills. But Keeland learned early the lesson that other Dallas folk who supported Bush are discovering now: With Bush in Washington, not everyone's dreams of capital glory are going to come true.

Nevertheless, giddiness abounds in Dallas these days about the prospect of a hometown boy in the White House. It seems half of the Park Cities--ZIP codes from which Bush gleaned a disproportionate share of his roughly $100 million in campaign funds--are waiting impatiently to see if they will be invited to the inauguration. The Presidential Inaugural Committee, whose members include former Texas Republican Party Chairman Fred Meyer and Dallas fund-raiser Jeanne Johnson Phillips, didn't send out invitations to the $30 million affair until last week, so by the Dallas Observer's deadlines few in Dallas knew whether they were invited to A-list parties. The uncertainty has unnerved the tux-and-limousine crowd. A professional party planner who works with many of Bush's supporters says she heard gripes during the recount about the scheduling problem the Florida mishap had caused for their January social calendars. Dallas Republicans who are close to Bush are getting frequent calls from prospective and fretful invitees. "I tell them I haven't got my invitation yet either," says Jim Oberwetter, an executive with Ray Hunt's oil company who helped raise money for George W. as well as his father years before.

But another reality has also begun to set in: Only so many Dallasites can go to Washington on a more permanent basis, and you may not be among them. Ask Harriet Miers, the former Dallas Bar Association president who, despite published rumors and her efforts lawyering and fund-raising for Bush, never made any shortlist for attorney general. "If you find someone who professes to know what's going to happen, I'd question their authority," Miers said in an interview a week before John Ashcroft was nominated for attorney general.

For Dallas folk, their hometown affiliation may actually work against them. "Texans are the affluent white males of this scenario. There are too many of them," says Rob Allyn, a political consultant who usually advises Republicans.

"Beyond Don Evans [a close Bush buddy from Midland and the Commerce secretary nominee] people from Texas shouldn't get their hopes up too high," echoes Oberwetter. He advises those with designs on a position with the Bush administration to keep their heads down. "People who talk about what they are going to get are not going to get it."

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