1988 Presidential Election
George Herbert Walker Bush, son of a United States senator, entered politics in 1963 when he was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in Texas. Three years later, Bush ran for one of Houston’s Congressional seats and won. In 1970, President Richard Nixon convinced Bush to relinquish his seat in Congress and run for the U.S. Senate in an attempt to oust two-term Texas Democratic incumbent Ralph Yarborough.
College Station businessman and local Texas state senator John Raney remembers that election. Raney was then the young chairman of the Brazos County Republican Party.
He says the position didn’t carry much weight at the time.
“There weren’t a lot of Republicans in Texas back then,” Raney laughs today. “So all of the Republican county chairmen knew each other.
Raney remembers Bush visiting College Station several times in his U.S. Senate campaign.
“Lloyd Bentsen wound up beating Yarborough in the ’72 Democratic primary. He then beat Bush in the general election. I think if Yarborough had been George’s November opponent, Bush would have won that senate race himself.”
For the sake of reference within these pages, the first President Bush will be referred to as “President George Bush,” excluding the inclusion of his middle names and initials. The first son of a president to be elected president was John Quincy Adams. His father, our nation’s second president, is known to history as, simply, John Adams.
The senior Adams did not have a middle name. In fact, John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president, was the first chief executive to be given a middle name at birth.
Thus references here to the 41st and 43rd presidents–the second father-son duo to actively serve in the White House–will be George Bush and George W. Bush.
After losing his 1970 race for the U.S. Senate, George Bush won the next three times he was on the Texas ballot: twice as the vice-presidential running mate to Ronald Reagan, and then in his own bid for the presidency in 1988.
The George Bush Presidential Library was opened in College Station on the Texas A&M University campus on November 6, 1997. As First Citizen, Bush gave much back to his country. He did the same for the institution of higher learning he so passionately adopted.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp says of Bush, “He fell in love with this place, and this place fell in love with him.”
Both George Bush and his beloved wife and former first lady, Barbara Bush, are buried on the grounds of the Bush Library Center.
By the 1988 presidential election which put George and Barbara Bush into the White House, College Station had become staunchly Republican. At the time, John Raney had distanced himself from politics to raise his two children and to run his bookstore in the Northgate commercial district on University Drive across from the Texas A&M main campus.
Raney still owns and runs that bookstore.
A member of the A&M Class of ’69, John Raney never completely severed his ties to politics. In 2011, he entered his first political race and won the state representative’s seat for Texas District 14.
Those who know Raney best say there’s a lot of George Bush in the man.
“I think Bush’s greatest strength was his character, his honesty,” Raney says. “I think we could use a little more of that in today’s political world.”
By the 1988 presidential campaign, 70 percent of the registered voters in Brazos County were Republicans. In defeating Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis—whose running mate was the same Lloyd Bentsen who had defeated Bush in the ’72 U.S. Senate race—Bush carried 65 percent of the local vote.
Another name on the College Station ballot in 1988 was Larry Ringer, seeking a second term as the city’s mayor.
Ringer served seven years on the College Station City Council before becoming mayor. At the time, most council members were employed as faculty at Texas A&M. Years before, a local developer had convinced the state legislature to pass a bill stipulating that an individual could not serve on two “governmental bodies.” So, for a time, council members typically came from the population of retired A&M faculty living in the area.
Since many of the residents of College Station were employed by the university, faculty dominance of the local city council was not surprising.
Today individuals can be both university employees and elected city officials, so long as they’re not paid in both capacities. Thus, service as a College Station city councilperson comes with no compensation.
Ringer eventually served five terms as College Station mayor. Today he and his wife, Jean, live in the city’s newest retirement community, The Langford, located next to Christ United Methodist Church on the Earl Rudder Freeway.
“I grew up in a small Iowa town and went to college at Iowa State,” Ringer says in looking back on his life. “One of my professors there made the move to A&M and convinced me to pursue graduate studies here. They made me a graduate teaching assistant and then offered me a full-time faculty position.
“I told Jean this would be a good way to get started in a teaching career. The plan was to stay five years. Thirty years later, we’re still here and thankful that we stayed.”
Early in Ringer’s time on the city council, College Station was dependent on the City of Bryan for most of its municipal services, including utilities. By the time Ringer became mayor, those ties had mostly been severed.
For many years, the only public library in the area was located in Bryan. One of Ringer’s first major accomplishments as mayor was the establishment of a public library in College Station. That occurred in 1987. The present library opened on Harvey Mitchell Parkway in 1998 and in 2004, the library was renamed in Ringer’s honor.
The local library system remains a joint venture between Bryan and College Station, emblematic of the cooperative relationship which now exists between the two cities.
Today Ringer sees a new kind of discord, one divisive along political party lines.
“When I served as mayor, we were able to get a lot of things done because we could ‘disagree friendly,’” Ringer says. “Nobody ever held a grudge because if they lost one vote, they knew they were probably going to be on the winning side the next time.
“I truly enjoyed the people I worked with. I guess if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been around for so long.”
Ringer confesses to having little recollection of the ’88 general election, but when you mention the name “George Bush,” his mind leaps to the day in September of the following year when College Station changed the name of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.
“The street-name change was a show of support for bringing the Bush Library to Texas A&M,” Ringer says. “After the decision was made to rename Jersey Street in honor of George Bush, I was one of the people who helped in the actual changing of the street signs.
“We did so in the dead of night!
“The ‘procession’ headed from Texas Avenue out toward Wellborn Road. I remember it so well. When we doubled back, all the signs read ‘George Bush Drive.’”
That was one of Ringer’s proudest moments as mayor of College Station.
Two years later, in 1991, College Station and Texas A&M were officially selected as home to the Bush Library. The complex, which also included a conference center, was officially opened on November 6, 1997.
You can read more about the George Bush Presidential Library Center on page 34.
With their long-standing view of the local landscape, both Larry Ringer and John Raney are proud of the progress their hometown has made.
Ringer laughs at what a group of third- and fourth-graders once told him.
“I was in the schools trying to learn what young people knew about government and the town in which they live,” Ringer says. “One of the questions I asked was where ‘downtown’ was located in College Station.
“Their answer, almost unanimously, was, ‘In the mall.’
“Is it a problem that we don’t have a traditional ‘downtown’ area?” Ringer metaphorically asks.
“I don’t think so, not at all.”
The closest thing resembling a downtown in College Station is in fact the Northgate District, home to John Raney’s Texas Aggieland Bookstore.
Raney’s enterprise has been in existence for nearly 50 years. When he first started the establishment, Northgate featured several other bookstores. Now, given the nature of digital communications in the “Information Age,” Raney’s business is the last of its kind. Today he’s mostly in the business of selling apparel and logoed merchandise.
You won’t find many textbooks in his store.
While Northgate remains a lively locale at night with its bars, clubs, and restaurants, new to the area is a high-rise apartment building offering student housing across the street from the A&M campus.
Times have changed.
John Raney says people have changed, too.
“I agreed whole-heartedly with George Bush’s campaign promise 30 years ago to move toward a ‘kinder and gentler’ nation,” Raney says. “We still need that today.
“When people say they dislike you for your belief, that’s just nonsense. It divides us. We need to try to teach people what is right and what is wrong and instill in everyone an understanding that none of us are perfect.
“That’s the kind of country President Bush wished for us all.”