Zeroing In

So the DPS doesn't play favorites with VIPs? Just check out their licenses.

Comics may crack jokes about President George W. Bush's intelligence, but he shouldn't have to tax his brain too hard to remember the eight digits of his driver's license number. When Bush first got his Texas license in 1961, he received a regular number like everyone else. When he became governor, it was changed to 00000005.

Colonel Wilson E. Speir has it easy, too. The number for this former head of the Texas Department of Public Safety is 00000001.

A Houston Press review of Texas driver's license numbers reveals that those in high places often have low numbers.

By the numbers: The next time George W. is stopped, he can really show some ID.
Scott Gilbert
By the numbers: The next time George W. is stopped, he can really show some ID.
By the numbers: The next time George W. is stopped, he can really show some ID.
Scott Gilbert
By the numbers: The next time George W. is stopped, he can really show some ID.

"As a courtesy to various elected officials and to other government officials, we have from time to time offered them a lower driver's license number just as a courtesy, as something nice to do," says DPS spokesperson Tela Mange.

Low numbers aid security details, she argues. "There are a lot of documents that security folks have to fill out, so if they have a low number, it's easier for them to remember," Mange says.

"It sounds kind of silly," she admits.

Apparently the silliness ends there. Other than enjoying the perk of an easy-to-remember number, those who hold low license numbers don't get special treatment, Mange says. Driving records follow the driver, even when the identification number changes.

Ordinarily DPS randomly assigns numbers and seldom changes them. Drivers may obtain new numbers in cases of theft, criminal misuse (such as identify theft) and domestic violence. (A 1999 addition to the Transportation Code by the Texas legislature allows victims of domestic violence to receive new numbers if they bring a court order to the DPS.) The agency also has reissued numbers to drivers who have a devil of a time coping with a license bearing the digits 666.

But no state statutes or rules oversee the bestowing of low numbers on government officials.

Those special licenses are based on requests, and the availability of lower numbers. They are issued at the discretion of the DPS director and the chief of the driver's license division, Mange says. DPS director Colonel Thomas A. Davis Jr. (00000618) and driver's license chief Michael Anderson declined to speak to the Press.

Others displaying low digits include former governor Preston E. Smith (00000006) and recent DPS director Dudley M. Thomas (00000003). Former Texas secretary of state George S. Bayoud, one of Bush's "pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 for his presidential campaign, rates a 00000018. Another is Robert B. Holt, who was campaign treasurer for the elder George Bush and now serves as a DPS commissioner (00000022). The other two DPS commissioners have regular numbers.

The benefit also extends to spouses. Marguerite Stevenson, widow of former governor Coke Stevenson, has 00000021. Mary Garrison, wife of the first DPS director, Colonel Homer Garrison Jr., has one that would make James Bond envious: 00000007. Mange says that offspring are not entitled to the perk, although several Garrison family members also have low numbers. Garrison headed the DPS for 30 years, from 1938 until his death in 1968, so "there may have been a decision to extend it to the kids," Mange says.

The practice began more than 25 years ago, although no one now at the DPS recalls when it started or who started it, she says. Mange also declined to provide the number of officials who possess low ID numbers.

"There's not much turnover in the numbers," Mange says. "Basically someone has to die or decide they don't want a low number anymore."

That doesn't explain why George W. received a new number soon after he became governor, while U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, an officeholder for over a decade, wasn't offered one until last year. In March 2000, the senator and her husband, Ray Hutchison, received licenses numbered 00000030 and 00000034. Their old numbers already have been reassigned to other drivers.

Texas's other U.S. senator, Phil Gramm, and his wife, Wendy Lee Gramm, have regular numbers. Gramm spokesperson Larry Neal says the DPS never offered them the special licenses.

"I didn't know these things existed or why one would want one," Neal says. "Maybe some do, but Senator Gramm doesn't care."

The Gramms' Texas licenses list their Washington, D.C., address. The DPS allows Texans to list out-of-state addresses, which can be convenient for members of the military, U.S. senators, college students and other people who spend most of the year away. Different states have varying regulations on the use of other states' licenses. (Texas, for example, requires transplants to trade in other state licenses for a Texas one within 30 days.)

"I guess the attitude of Texas is that people who are from Texas and who move to another state are pretty proud of being from Texas and want to maintain their ties to the state," Mange says.

No word yet on whether Bush will update his address to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

 
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