AUSTIN, Texas -- President-elect Bush is meeting with Republican governors, the latest in a series of pre-inaugural forums aimed at shoring up support for the new administration's top priorities.
Eighteen governors were gathering Saturday at Bush's 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas, to talk about the economy and proposals for improving schools. The meeting also gives the president-elect a chance to show off his spread, with its newly finished ranch house, 200 head of cattle, hiking trails and miles of hardwood trees.
After a tour of the ranch, Bush and the governors planned a working lunch. Bush hoped to gather ideas as he prepares to enter the White House and persuade Congress to pass a big tax cut and an education reform package.
Bush, who resigned as Texas governor last month, "believes deeply that many of the nation's answers can be found in the state capitols," said spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The president-elect has promised to reach out to Democrats to garner support for his proposals, but only GOP governors were invited to the weekend meeting. Fleischer said the time will come for Bush to meet with Democratic governors, but first he wants "to say thank you to the Republican governors for their help in the course of the campaign."
"The governors were with him very early in 1999, at a time when he looked like he could have a very difficult primary campaign with many other people who were running against him," said Fleischer. "So I think he also wants to express his thanks at this time."
New York Gov. George Pataki, Michigan Gov. John Engler, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore were among those expected at the gathering.
Bush has had a series of meetings in Austin with lawmakers, business leaders, ministers and others to talk about some of his top priorities -- a tax cut, education reform and increasing the role of charities in providing social services.
He has called congressional leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- who serve on defense committees to meet with him in Austin on Monday to talk about his proposal to overhaul and modernize the military.
On Thursday, he'll meet with "education entrepreneurs" to talk about school reform. In between those forums, he will squeeze in a trip to Washington.
Bush spent part of Friday packing up his belongings as he prepares to move out of the governor's mansion. Moving vans will pick up his things on Monday -- some will go to the ranch, where Bush will stay while he's still in Texas, and the rest will go to Washington.
A much-loved, relaxing getaway for Bush, the ranch probably will continue to serve as a refuge even after he moves into the White House.
"I think he's going to make healthy use of the ranch. He enjoys going down there," said Fleischer.
In personnel announcements Friday, Fleischer said Mary Matalin, a well-known GOP strategist, political talk show host and former campaign aide to Bush's father, will serve as a presidential assistant and also as counselor to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.
Bush also picked Margaret La Montagne, who served as his education adviser during the presidential campaign, as his domestic policy adviser.
Albert Hawkins, director of the Texas governor's Office of Budget and Planning, will become the liaison between the Cabinet and the White House.
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