Bush choice quits
Augusta golf club

By Jon Dougherty

Almost as soon as news broke that President Bush planned to nominate CSX Corporation’s CEO and president John W. Snow to head up the Treasury Department, he became mired in controversy – though of an unusual, if not apolitical, sort.

Snow, 63, who is Bush’s pick to replace Paul O’Neill, is a member of the all-male Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., currently under fire by groups who want to see it admit women members.

But rather than get sidetracked by the controversy, Snow tendered his resignation in the club today, though Bush said earlier in the day his membership wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – affect his appointment or the job he was picked to do.

“John Snow has excelled as a business leader, an expert on economic policy, an academic, and as a public servant,” Bush said today. “He’ll be a superb member of my Cabinet.”

Asked whether his Augusta membership would have posed problems, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush dismissed it.

“I’m not aware that that presents any disqualification,” Fleischer said.

At a press conference following his nomination, Snow sounded upbeat and confident in his ability to help the Bush administration eke out an economic recovery.

“I pledge … to use all my talents, my power, energy and ability, to strengthen the current economic recovery and create an environment where millions of job creators – small businesses, partnerships and large businesses – and investors all across America will grow and prosper,” Snow said during a press conference today.

Snow became the second member to resign from Augusta this month. Last week, former CBS chief executive Thomas H. Wyman, a 25-year member of the club, resigned over what he called club chairman Hootie Johnson’s unacceptable and “pigheaded” decision to exclude women.

He predicted that one-third of the club’s 300 members agreed with him.

“I am not anxious to make this personal,” Wyman told the New York Times. “But Hootie keeps writing that there has not been a single case of protest in the membership. And he absolutely believes this will all go away. It will not go away, and it should not. I know there is a large number of members, at least 50 to 75, who believe it is inevitable that there will be and should be a woman member.”

According to a Nov. 30 Associated Press survey, Americans are nearly evenly divided on the issue.

“When asked which perspective came closer to their own views, 46 percent of respondents said Augusta National has a right to have an all-male membership, while the same percentage said a club holding such a prestigious golf tournament should have female members,” the report said.

Nevertheless, three-quarters of respondents said pro sensation Tiger Woods should play in The Masters, one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, in April, despite the dispute. A New York Times editorial Nov. 18 hinted that Woods should skip the tourney because of Augusta’s all-male roster.

Talk-show king Rush Limbaugh, on his broadcast today, said he believed Snow should maintain his membership and said he couldn’t understand why the Treasury nominee would even consider resigning, though he pegged the decision as being politically motivated.

“I especially wouldn’t resign [club membership] in the midst of all this phony pressure being brought to bear,” Limbaugh told a caller who discussed a report that said Snow would quit. “But that’s not the modern political world. That’s one of the things that’s wrong with politics.”

“What the Democrats will say is that he [Snow] apparently doesn’t think enough of women to want to be considered by them representative and a leader of them since he’s willing to become a member of a club and stay a member of a club that doesn’t consider them full-class citizens,” Limbaugh added. “I mean, I can hear the rhetoric now.”

Women’s groups did not return phone calls seeking comment before press time.

O’Neill was fired by the president on Friday as part of a shake-up of his economic team prior to the 2004 elections.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was also dismissed. Stephan Friedman, a former co-chairman of the investment firm Goldman Sachs, is Bush’s choice to replace Lindsey, but his appointment wasn’t expected to be announced today.

Snow served as deputy undersecretary for the Transportation Department under President Gerald Ford. Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the search for O’Neill and then chose Snow as his successor, was Ford’s chief of staff. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also served in the Ford administration.

Snow holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Virginia and a law degree from George Washington University. He has served as a professor of both economics and law.

Also, he serves on the boards of Verizon, Circuit City Stores, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Steel, and the Association of American Railroads. He has been with CSX since 1977.