Democratic Underground

Bush, the Gravedigger, and Cheney's Gunshot Victim

February 18, 2006
By Jerry Politex

Although he's often been present at the relevant speeches over the years, maybe Cheny wasn't listening to Bush as he hyped his "responsibility society." After days of pressure, Vice-President Dick finally fessed up in public to shooting Harry Whittington while quail hunting on a ranch in Texas. Folks outside of Texas were still asking, "Harry Who."

Texan Molly Ivins describes Whittington as "a rare Texas Republican who is seriously civilized, particularly on the issues of crime, punishment and prisons." Over the years, Whittington, an Austin lawyer of 78 who is presently best known around town and in court for his real estate holdings, has been on the Texas Board of Corrections and the chairman of Texas Public Finance Authority

Looking at Whittington in a broader frame, New York Times reporter Simon Romero tells us that Cheney's hunting companion "was known largely for his pivotal role in building the Republican Party in Texas into a powerhouse." Along the way, the earthy Whittington, a University of Texas Law School grad, helped smooth the way for tenderfoot Bush during his unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1964, and continues to raise money and provide advice to Republican candidates to this day. In 1999 then-Gov. Bush got him to chair the Funeral Service Commission, a regulatory state agency. At the time, Bush was embroiled in a whistleblower lawsuit that contended that Bush and Robert Waltrip, the owner of SCI, the largest funeral corporation in Texas, were in cahoots. Waltrip, a Houston-based CEO, had previously donated $45,000 to the Bush campaigns for governor and $100,000 to Daddy Bush for his presidential library at College Station. Here's how Romero describes it:

"The Texas funeral industry was then riddled by claims of irregularities, some surrounding Service Corporation International, of Houston, a large chain of funeral homes headed by an ardent supporter of the Bush family. Under Whittington, the commission reluctantly settled a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former state regulator who maintained that she had been fired for investigating the company."

Here's how I described it in 1999:

Bush is presently pulling a "Where's Waldo?" with respect to telling the court what he knows about interactions between himself, his Funeral Commission [eventually chaired by Whittington], the Service Corporation International, which owns over 10% of all funeral homes in Texas and has been called "the world's largest death care company," key members of his staff [including ex-FEMA head and Brownie classmate Joe Albaugh], and the Attorney General [now-Senator John Cornyn], among others. George has missed a July 1 deposition date in a lawsuit filed by former Funeral Commission head Eliza May, which "alleges that May was fired because she 'repeatedly and in good faith reported violations of the law and conduct that she reasonably believed to constitute violations of the law.'" The Austin Chronicle's Robert Bryce calls it a "whistleblower lawsuit" which "alleges that Bush and other politicos worked to thwart an investigation by the Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC) into improperly licensed embalmers working out of SCI funeral homesin Dallas."

Bush managed to stay out of court until Whittington worked out an out-of-court settlement that cost the State of Texas $155,000 and Waltrip's SCI $55,000, as reported in the Dallas Morning News:

"Neither SCI, Mr. Bush nor any of the other defendants admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement. Attorney General John Cornyn, who was also named as a defendant as a result of a legal opinion he wrote that was favorable to SCI, represented the state in the case.... Harry Whittington of Austin, who was named presiding officer of the Funeral Service Commission after a major shakeup of agency in 1999, said his board reluctantly agreed to pay $50,000 as part of the settlement to end the 2-year-old case.... Mr. Bush, Mr. Allbaugh, and the other defendants had previously denied wrongdoing. Ms. May's lawyers had accused Mr. Bush of improperly intervening in the funeral commission investigation as a favor to his friend, Mr. Waltrip. Mr. Waltrip served as a trustee for the George Bush Presidential Library, and SCI donated more than $100,000 toward its construction. Mr. Waltrip also contributed $45,000 to the younger Mr. Bush's gubernatorial campaigns."

Last September Jason Leopold in Online Journal reported the involvement of another Bush crony, Consigllere Gonzales:

[Whistleblower] May claimed that current White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales was also complicit in the matter and even helped SCI in a cover-up. Gonzales, who was also Bush's gubernatorial counsel, reportedly received a memo on April 22, 1996, suggesting possible improprieties by two funeral commissioners with ties to SCI.... In his interview with Newsweek, Gonzales said such a memo was merely one of many that might have crossed his desk and was otherwise not memorable. In any case, Bush never acted on the memo's recommendations that the SCI affiliated commissioners be removed."

We know where all the Bush Funeralgate players are today, right? Waltrip? Of course:

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency has hired Kenyon International to set up a mobile morgue for handling bodies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Kenyon is a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), a scandal-ridden Texas-based company operated by a friend of the Bush family. Recently, SCI subsidiaries have been implicated in illegally discarding and desecrating corpses.... Kenyon's original deal was secured by the Department of Homeland Security."

Readings:

Remarks by the President at Bush-Cheney 2004 Luncheon
The White House

Too Bad Cheney Shot A Smart Texas Republican
Molly Ivins

Profile of Harry Whittington
Internation Herald Tribune

Dubya And The Gravedigger: Various Essays
Bush Watch

FEMA hires subsidiary of funeral services company implicated in scandals
Jason Leopold

FEMA, La. outsource Katrina body count to firm implicated in body-dumping scandals
Miriam Raftery

Jerry Politex is Editor of Bush Watch.

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