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Victim a patriarch of Texas Republicans

The man accidentally shot by Vice President Dick Cheney is an avid hunter and a longtime Republican activist who owns the downtown building where the GOP's rise to power in Texas was in large part engineered.

Harry Whittington, 78, a lawyer, owns the Vaughn building in Austin, which has hosted Republican campaign headquarters for decades. President Bush used the building for his gubernatorial campaigns, current Texas Gov. Rick Perry is there now, and presidential adviser Karl Rove used to have an office there as well.

Over the years, the party evolved from minor player to the dominant force in the state. Every statewide elected official in Texas is a Republican.

"Anyone who's been involved in Republican politics in 20 years knows and respects Harry Whittington," Republican consultant Ray Sullivan said. "Twenty years ago there were very few prominent Republicans in Texas and even fewer in Austin. He was a Texas Republican long before it was cool."

Whittington has been in Texas politics nearly a half-century.

In 1961, he worked on John Tower's campaign for the Senate and later helped a young George W. Bush run for Congress, a race Bush lost.

Whittington has been a go-to guy for governors trying to clean up troubled state agencies and has served on state boards for nearly 30 years.

In the 1980s, Gov. Bill Clements appointed him to the old Texas Board of Corrections, which oversaw a state prison system a federal judge had declared unconstitutional because of brutal conditions. Whittington became an advocate for change.

Whittington also has been an advocate of the rights of mentally retarded inmates.

In addition, he served on the Texas Bond Review Board and Texas Public Finance Authority, which oversaw state bond issues.

In 1999, then-Gov. Bush appointed him to lead a restructured Texas Funeral Services Commission, which was embroiled in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former executive director Eliza May. She alleged she was fired because of her investigation into SCI, the world's largest funeral company.

The lawsuit was settled in 2001. Whittington's term is set to expire next year.

He has also contributed $3,000 to Bush's two campaigns for president.

Locally, Whittington is also known as the attorney who had the patience to take on City Hall. The city condemned a downtown block owned by his family to build a parking garage. Whittington has waged a six-year legal battle that has so far halted the project.

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