Remembering Reggie Bashur
But I do remember Reggie – “a bear of a man,” as his longtime associate and friend Cliff Johnson described him. He died Feb. 25, at 59. He had battled brain cancer for more than a year.
It was the fall of 1985. Clements, who became the first Republican governor in Texas in more than a century with an upset win in 1978, was upset himself in 1982 by Democrat Mark White.
In 1985, Clements decided to return the favor. He hired Reggie as his campaign press guy, recommended by well-known GOP pollster Art Finkelstein, who had worked with Bashur on a New Hampshire race.
Clements won the 1986 revenge match. Reggie became his press secretary. He held that job into 1989.
Born in Brooklyn, Reggie’s passion for history led to a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y., and a master’s degree from Villanova University in Nashville, Tenn.
Reggie dropped plans for a doctorate, deciding jobs teaching history were in short supply. He won a fellowship to Ohio State University for a master’s degree in journalism.
He became a reporter for Dix Newspapers of Ohio. His obvious political savvy led to a job as press secretary for the Ohio Republican Senate Caucus.
He also worked at Hill & Knowlton, Inc., a global public relations firm, in Chicago and Pittsburgh. He later became press secretary in Washington for then-U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., and for Humphrey’s successful re-election campaign.
He met the love of his life, Jan Powell, at Hill and Knowlton’s Washington office. Jan, from Dallas, missed Texas. So Reggie got the job with Clements, and also fell in love with Texas.
Cliff Johnson, a conservative former Democratic state representative who became legislative liaison for Clements in 1987, said Clements would sometimes declare an idea to his staff, and meet nothing but nods – until it got to Reggie.
“Are you people crazy?” Reggie would ask. And then he’d explain how it would look in the newspapers. Clements once shouted at Reggie, and Reggie shouted back – louder.
After leaving Clements, Reggie had a series of campaign consulting jobs. He was adviser and confidant to several high-profile Republican office-holders and candidates in Texas.
His reputation as a straightforward, nononsense, always-tell-the-truth guy made him a great source for political reporters. Having been one himself, he understood their need for good information.
Behind his gruff exterior, Reggie had a quick wit, a fine sense of humor, and deep disdain for anyone trying to hoodwink journalists or anyone else.
He respected straight facts. We respected his acumen, insights and honesty.
Reggie knew that a good press secretary faces out, not in. He or she doesn’t spend time slavishly currying favor with their boss, but instead gives advice when needed, and helps reporters do their jobs, and get what they need, soon, to write their stories.
“My view is that the best PR is the truth,” Reggie told me for a profile I wrote on him in 1987. “Our positions have to be able to stand on their own, and stand in full public view before the eyes of the media, and before the eyes of the state. And if they can’t, then they need to be reviewed.
“(Some press secretaries think) they either should be or are part of policy making. A press secretary is not a policy-maker. A press secretary can only articulate and communicate to the best of his or her ability what the policy is.
“The press secretary needs to know all about the policy, and needs to be able to defend the policy. But he is not part of the group making the policy,” Reggie said. “And individuals who try to do both compromise themselves and do a bad job at both.”
Later, Reggie became a policy assistant under George W. Bush, and an adviser to a number of politicians and campaigns, from Comptroller Susan Combs to Gov. Rick Perry to Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, he was determined to beat it – for Jan, and for their kids, Bryan, Will and Kathleen. I was one of dozens of friends who shuttled him daily to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for several weeks of treatments.
But the cancer came back.
We all will miss him. At Reggie’s burial at the state cemetery, Cliff Johnson issued a heavenly warning:
“God’s gotta get ready, because he’s got a bear a comin’.”
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.