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 to make a run for the U.S. Senate in an attempt to oust two-term Democratic incumbent Ralph Yarborough.
College Station businessman and local Texas state senator John Raney remembers that election. Raney was 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.
George came up to College Station to campaign several times.
“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 to the nation’s 41st president on this website, the first President Bush will be referred to as “President George Bush,” excluding the inclusion of his middle initials. The first son of a president to be elected president was John Quincy Adams and his father is known to history as, simply, John Adams.
Of course, the nation’s second president did not have a middle name. In fact, John Quincy Adams was the first president to be given a middle name at birth.
So, within these pages, we’ll refer to the second father-son combo to win our nation’s highest elective office as 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 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 and his adopted school.
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.”
Barbara Bush, Bush’s wife and the beloved former First Lady, is buried alongside the president on the Bush Library Center grounds.
By the 1988 presidential election which put George and Barbara Bush into the White House, College Station had become staunchly Republican. By that time, John Rainey had distanced himself from politics to raise his two children and to run his bookstore in the Northgate commercial district across from the Texas A&M main campus on University Drive.
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 won his first race as the Texas state representative for 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 1988, 70 percent of the registered voters in Brazos County were Republicans. In sweeping to victory in that year’s presidential race against Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis–whose running mate was the same Lloyd Bentsen who had defeated Bush for the Texas Senate seat in 1972–Bush carried 65 percent of the local vote.
Also 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 came from the population of retired A&M faculty living in the area.
Eventually serving five terms as College Station mayor, Ringer and his wife, Jean, today 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 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.”
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 came from the population of retired A&M faculty living in the area.
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.
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 and the present library opened on Harvey Mitchell Parkway in 1998.
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.
However, Ringer today sees a new kind of political discord, one divisive along 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 before council, 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 “George Bush” to him, his mind leaps to the day they changed the name of one of College Station’s busiest streets.
“It 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 change the signs...in the dead of night!
“The ‘processional’ headed from Texas Avenue out toward Wellborn Road. I remember it so well. When we doubled back, all the street signs read ‘George Bush Drive.’”
That was in September 1989. Two years later, College Station and Texas A&M were selected as home to the Bush Library and eventual Conference Center. The complex was officially opened on November 6, 1997.
You can read more about the George Bush Presidential Library Center here.
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 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. He sells far more apparel and logoed merchandise than he does textbooks.
Today, Northgate comes alive mostly at night with its bars, clubs and restaurants. High-rise apartment buildings now soar nearby.
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 wanted to see.”