June 3, 2019 — Upon completing his legal education at the University of Houston Law Center in 1978, David Bates had a job lined up at an area law firm. Then his plans and the trajectory of his professional life changed dramatically.
Bates, a childhood friend of Jeb Bush, received an offer from George H.W. Bush to be his personal aide the summer he graduated from the Law Center. At the time Bush had a political action committee and was speaking on behalf of numerous congressional, gubernatorial and senatorial candidates, while quietly mulling his first run for president.
"I was quite excited about the opportunity," Bates said. "I always thought so highly of then-former Congressman and Ambassador Bush. “I asked to delay my start at the firm and they said, ‘Great we’ll see you in mid-November,’ after the 1978 midterms.
“Of course, in about mid-October, I had a pretty good sense he was going to run for president. I asked if I could continue working for him after the mid-term election if he was going to proceed with running. Thankfully he said yes. The rest is history. I went to Washington and stayed involved in government and public policy the rest of my career.”
Bush officially launched his campaign in May 1979. Bates recalled traveling across the country with Bush, usually flying coach. But as the campaign progressed, the number of staff and traveling press increased and the method of travel was upgraded.
“When he became a presidential candidate, it was a large and impressive field of about nine candidates on the Republican side, including Howard Baker, Bob Dole and John Connally,” Bates said. “When he first started running, really nobody gave him a chance. But it quickly became a two-man race between President Bush and Ronald Reagan.
"During the latter part of the primaries there was Secret Service, and we had our own jet with quite a bit of staff and a lot of traveling press. It was a lot different from our two-man team back when I first started. After he became Reagan's running mate it was an even bigger staff, a bigger Secret Service detail and more press traveling with us. It was very interesting to see it from start to finish."
From 1981-1986, he spent time in the Departments of Commerce and Treasury working in the international trade area and practiced law for Reynolds, Allen and Cook’s office in Washington, D.C.
In April 1986, Bates rejoined Bush as a deputy to Craig Fuller, the chief of staff to the vice president. In his role he served as a liaison between Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign and the vice president’s office. Following Bush’s successful election in 1988, Bates served as assistant to the president and secretary to the cabinet.
"It's very hard for a party to win three presidential terms in a row, particularly when the vice president runs for president," Bates said. “President Bush bucked history in 1988 by winning. It was a very interesting campaign and historically significant.
"I was there for the first couple years as secretary of the cabinet. Then I went to the private sector because I had been in the White House for about five years. Each year in the White House is the equivalent of about four on the outside. I went to the private sector for a couple years with a consulting firm in Washington."
In 1992, James Baker left his post as secretary of state to become Bush’s chief of staff. Part of the change included Bates’ return to the White House – it would be his final stint working for Bush.
"The 1992 re-election campaign unfortunately was unsuccessful," Bates said. "But I'm glad I went back. I think I would have always regretted not going back and trying to help him get re-elected."
Bates and his family returned to Texas in 1992 and have resided in San Antonio since. Bates served as general counsel to a biomedical company for a year and a half before opening the San Antonio office of Austin-based consulting firm, Public Strategies Inc., in 1994. In 2004, he started his own consulting firm, DQB International. He still carries many lessons he learned from Bush during their years working together.
"He was an extraordinary man, an honorable and decent man," Bates said. "The principles I adopted from watching him were to do your duty and nothing less, maintain the highest ethical standards, treat everyone with respect, and always put your country first and before politics.
"He was a terrific man to work for. He was very loyal. He's really the finest man I've ever known."
Bates was in attendance for Bush’s state funeral service on Dec. 5, 2018, at the Washington National Cathedral.
"It was a real feeling of love inside that cathedral for the man," Bates said. "I thought it was so in keeping with who he was as a man. He had great humility. It was non-partisan, and nothing over the top. I just thought it was a very moving, wonderful service."
Bates has frequently used the knowledge and skills he gained at the Law Center. He said taking Corporate Law with Professor Raymond Britton, Criminal Law with Professor Newell Blakely and Constitutional Law with Professor Sidney Buchanan were three of his favorite courses.
“Attention to detail and being a good note-taker has been helpful to me,” Bates said. “There’s no doubt about it. It definitely has helped me in my professional career in government and then in my consulting work, which a lot of it is related to government, legislative and regulatory affairs. I feel as if I have used it every day of my professional career, although most of it has not been as a practicing lawyer.
“One thing law school really gave me, which I'm really appreciative of, is the ability to think critically. It has helped me immensely.”