Updated 5 yearss ago
Trader: Bush made numerous trips abroad to establish Florida's role in International trade. He's proud, he says, of bringing "high voltage energy" to the governor's office.
If it's true that some enter politics to be something and some enter politics to do something, Jeb Bush belongs squarely among the latter group. Born into wealth, the son of a president, Bush didn't strive to become governor to bask in the trappings of the office. He sought validation via his agenda, and the enduring image of Bush at work in the capital isn't him glad-handing at an official function or presiding over a full-dress meeting in the governor's formal chamber. Rather, it's Bush, shirt-sleeves rolled, half-glasses perched on his nose, tapping out e-mails while hunched over a computer keyboard in the small anteroom where he prefers to work.
However one views the individual pieces of his legacy, what Bush may have changed most is the office of the governor itself. When he was asked, entering the last year of his second term, to talk about his accomplishments, the first words out of his mouth didn't concern education or privatizing state jobs or cutting taxes. What he's proud of, he says, is "the fact that I've brought high-voltage energy to this office. And that -- whether people like it or don't like it ... doesn't bother me a bit -- this is not a passive job anymore."
Indeed. For the past seven years, as Florida moved steadily into the national spotlight, Bush has wielded his charisma and popularity and sense of urgency relentlessly, across a wide front of policy initiatives.
With a bias toward technology, an appreciation of a knowledge-based economy and an orientation toward policy driven by data, Bush rarely changed direction once he'd set a course. He persevered in the face of significant family issues, and his popularity survived head-on encounters with intractable issues, unions, legislators and hurricanes. He vetoed millions of dollars of expenditures authorized by his Republican friends in the Legislature but maintained enough clout that lawmakers never felt comfortable overriding his line-item edits.
"He has been the most effective governor in modern political history. From 1967 on, he has almost no peer," says Pete Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and former legislator who has seen 40 sessions come and go. "He was able to mobilize his public persona in a way that let him be effective better than any governor that precedes him for at least a generation."
Parts of Bush's legacy will likely endure for some time: New standards in emergency preparedness and response that have become models for the nation, for example; a new scope of powers for the governor's office, particularly in influencing the selection of judges; a state land-acquisition plan he'd once attacked; and Everglades restoration, which he went to bat for in a big way.
The state's head-turning progress in K-12 education, despite its significance, is absent from that first tier only because it's the most likely to wither from inattention. None of Bush's likely successors at this point appears to have either the understanding of policy or the passion Bush marshaled to keep the educational boulder moving. And move it he did. While some continued to criticize the FCAT, Bush's policies -- grading schools, holding systems accountable -- forced communities back into schools, narrowed achievement gaps between whites and minority groups, and stimulated significant achievement gains overall.
Bush also set a high standard in the number of women, Hispanics and African-Americans he appointed to positions ranging from appellate judges to water management board members. He named Toni Jennings, with whom he had sparred while she was Senate president, as the state's first woman lieutenant governor. He appointed the state's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Raoul G. Cantero III, and he and President Bush helped elect Mel Martinez, the state's first Hispanic senator. As University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus points out, he translated his knowledge of trends in Florida's demographics and voting patterns into effective campaign strategies, capitalizing both on the growing number of Hispanic voters and high turnout rates in conservative, rural counties that campaigners often ignore.
Making it happen sometimes pitted Bush's policies against his politics and highlighted the stubborness that could be the flip side of his determination.
Other Bush legacies are more tenuous. For all his talk of privatization and re-engineering state government, he never advanced a comprehensive redefinition spelling out what government should and shouldn't do. He worked hard cementing Florida's role in international trade, but international politics kept the Free Trade Area of the Americas' headquarters in limbo rather than Miami. His effort to reform the state's Medicaid program is a too-soon-to-tell proposition. Scripps Florida -- the crown jewel of his efforts to remix the state's economy with a heavy dose of med-tech -- remains buffeted by local county politics. His growth management initiatives never held developers to the same kind of accountability standards he valued so highly in education. And if Bush boosted the state's bond rating, he also leaves it with more debt, which more than doubled since 1995 to $22.5 billion in 2005, an average annual increase of $1.23 billion.
In some significant areas, Bush leaves confusion. His back-of-the-napkin plan to incorporate the state's colleges and universities into a "seamless, K-20" system simply didn't work, he acknowledges: "That is one place where I would say that I've not been successful."
On the privatization front, Bush paid more attention to getting the ball rolling than to ensuring that it was rolling well. One outsourcing initiative, the administration of the state's personnel services by Convergys, has stumbled badly, ill-serving both state employees and Bush's agenda. Many believe the privatization initiatives may be the first to disappear under a new governor. "Florida always was one of the most privatized state governments, and this governor just took it to a different level, and I don't think for the better," says Mark Neimeiser, former chief Florida lobbyist for AFSCME, the public employees union, and now a consultant/lobbyist.
Like previous influential governors, Bush often embodied the prevailing public will. On tax issues, for instance, Bush played to the crowd, or at least his crowd: He supported tax holidays and fought to eliminate levies like the intangibles tax that he considered "nuisances" instead of pushing any broader, more systematic reform. "I will be the first governor to have cut taxes every year, and I'm proud of it," Bush says. "I love it. I just think it's fantastic, and I like it when people get mad that I do it."
On other issues, such as education, Bush capitalized on the public's desire for improvement but pursued specific policies that were born of his own convictions, not public attitudes. "He is a leader who leads," says Fred Leonhardt, an Orlando attorney whom Bush has consulted on growth management and other issues. "He recognizes you will not make everybody happy all the time. There are people who you will even make happy none of the time. If he is going to move on out and make something happen, he will make it happen."
Making it happen sometimes pitted Bush's policies against his politics and highlighted the stubbornness that could be the flip side of his determination. In pushing ahead with his One Florida initiative, which removed race as a criterion in state contracting and admission to state universities, Bush's support for the principle alienated many African-Americans who had supported him in 1998 (when he garnered 14% of the African-American vote, compared to half that percentage in 2002). In the process, the political door into the African-American community that Bush had eased open for the GOP abruptly slammed shut -- even as African-Americans continued to benefit from Bush's appointments and education policies.
Dario Moreno, a political scientist at Florida International University and a Bush admirer, says the governor hurt himself at times by not going the extra mile to explain himself and his policy choices. "There is an unwillingness to listen to people who disagree with him that is his biggest negative spot," says Moreno.
Bush once told an acquaintance that his biggest fear "is waking up one morning after I leave office and finding out it's gone back to the way it was before I was governor." For at least awhile, he can probably rest easy. At the very least, he's created a new sense of what's possible from a governor of Florida -- including an ability to campaign and deliver hurricane briefings in fluent Spanish.
"I think filling the space is important in anything," says Bush. "And I'm proud of the fact that with a very, very able team, we have filled the space in terms of policy in this state, and I believe the state's better off because of it."
Leaving His Mark
By Cynthia Barnett, Barbara Miracle and Mike Vogel
During his two terms in office, Gov. Jeb Bush had undertaken initiatives across a wide range of policy areas. What follows is not an attempt to grade him on his performance in each notable initiative, but rather an attempt to gauge which efforts have created a true legacy -- influence that will extend significantly beyond his time in office.
» The Office
Changes in the structure of Florida's government -- including several that Gov. Jeb Bush aggressively pushed -- made the Florida governor's office a considerably stronger institution over the course of Bush's two terms. Voter-approved changes meant that in 2003, the Cabinet shrank from six to just three slots, giving the governor power to appoint both the education commissioner and secretary of state. Every previous modern governor had supported the change. To Bush fell the spoils.
The governor's power grew even more when Bush and friendly legislative leaders mounted a successful charge in 2000 to abolish the Board of Regents, handing Bush the ability to name the trustees of the boards of every public university in the state. Another big change: Bush, via a legislative change, seized the power to name the members of the commissions that nominate candidates for judgeships, all but cutting the Florida Bar out of the process.
All those changes are structural, meaning Bush has left a legacy his successors will enjoy as well. Bush also capitalized on Republican majorities in the Legislature and term limits that pushed out lawmakers with their own established power bases. It's unlikely that the next governor will enjoy the same latitude Bush enjoyed with lawmakers, who are eager to reassert themselves after acquiescing to Bush's vetoes of $1.7 billion worth of pet spending projects for seven years. But the structural and legal changes, as well as Bush's example of what's possible, mean "Florida has gone from being one of the weakest states in terms of the governor's office to at least middle of the pack. It's way, way ahead of where Florida has been," says Pete Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney and former legislator.
Adds Dario Moreno, political science professor and director of The Metropolitan Center at Florida International University: "I think people are going to expect more from their governor after Jeb Bush. He leaves Florida a far more important place than when he began -- politically, nationally, economically, internationally."
» The Judiciary
Seizing the power to name the people who recommend candidates for judgeships may be one of Bush's biggest and most controversial legacies. Some members of the Florida Bar, which formerly picked three of the nine members of the Judicial Nominating Commissions, see the potential for partisan political influence and suggest that already some potential judges now believe Democrats need not apply. Bush's response: Essentially, that the previous process was no less political, or less biased, than having the governor appoint all JNC members. He says he's selecting more women, more Hispanics and more African-Americans -- and more people who share his judicial philosophy -- than the previous process produced. "I don't have a problem with that, and I think the next governor should have that same right."
As of early 2006, Bush had made 318 judicial appointments, including 31 African-Americans, 42 Hispanic Americans, one Asian-American and 96 women. The numbers do not include Judges of Compensation Claims.
» K-12 Education
Bush's accountability-driven policies produced improvements throughout the K-12 system, including increases in the number of minority students taking the SAT and Advanced Placement exams. Gains were particularly noteworthy at the elementary level; the state took a leadership role nationally in narrowing the achievement gap between white and minority students. By the state's own FCAT yardstick, reading and math scores improved notably between 1999 and 2005, with the percentage of fourth-graders reading at grade level rising from 48% to 71%. The percentage of African-American fourth-graders reading at grade level doubled to 56% in that period. Meanwhile, the number of "A" and "B"-graded schools, which trailed the number of "D" and "F" schools in 1999, rose from 515 to 1,843. The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Florida had, for the first time, moved ahead of the national average in math. Improvement among African-American and Hispanic students bested national averages, with Florida's African-American fourth-graders improving at twice the national average since 1998. It will fall to Bush's successor to sustain those improvements and carry them into the middle grades, where gains tend to diminish, and on into high school, where they flatten out even more noticeably. "We started so far behind, but the results are there for people to see. We've made progress," Bush says.
» Higher Education
Even by his own account, the collection of "moving parts" that constitutes the state's higher education sector stymied Bush's attempt to fold the state's colleges and universities into a "seamless K-20" system. Voters essentially re-created the old Board of Regents in the guise of the Board of Governors, whose members Bush got to name. But the relationship between the governors and the Board of Education has been fractious, and the whole university system seems unsettled as Bush enters his final year in office. "The universities have not embraced accountability. They don't want it. They would like just freedom. I've not been able to convince people that the vision that was embraced and put into law is worthy of implementation," Bush says. "I'm not blaming anybody but me. I've not been able to pull it off." Bush suggests that the Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid Tuition programs essentially lock the state's colleges and universities into a funding path that will make it difficult for any governor to change the system.
All governors are economic boosters to one degree or another, and Bush strongly supported a broad range of business interests -- often to the dismay of labor groups, plaintiffs lawyers and some environmentalists who often felt ignored, and often were. The state has prospered economically during Bush's term, but his main legacy in economic development has been to point the state firmly on a course focused on a more modern economic destiny.
Chief, of course, was his audacious $310-million recruitment of Scripps Research Institute to Florida. Bush also fathered the $30-million Centers of Excellence program that has supported specialized research in disciplines such as photonics at Florida universities. And he will leave office having established Florida in a much stronger trade position internationally. Bush led trade missions to at least 20 countries, from Israel to Ecuador and the United Kingdom. His outer office shelves carry a global art collection a clipper ship captain would envy. One incomplete portion of Bush's trade legacy is his campaign for Miami as the site of the headquarters of the yet-to-be-completed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Bush also set the bar for future governors in more actively engaging the Council of 100, the group of powerhouse business leaders that Gov. Farris Bryant founded in 1961, for expertise on policy issues. Bush gave the group specific tasks, and he paid more attention to its recommendations than some Democratic governors, says J. Hyatt Brown, chairman of Daytona Beach-based insurance agency Brown & Brown and a former Democratic House Speaker.
Bush's legacy on tax and financial issues is inconclusive. He's proud of having cut billions in various taxes as a matter of policy, including the likely final elimination of the intangibles tax by the end of the coming legislative session. But the absence of any broader, systematic changes in the state's tax structure means his legacy in this area may have a short lifespan, depending on how economic and political conditions in the state evolve.
Bush can claim to have improved the state's bond rating to AAA -- but meanwhile, the state's debt has doubled to $22 billion over the last 10 years, creating additional interest expenses that have to be paid for -- with tax money. And for all Bush's rhetoric about limited government and cutting taxes, he slowed growth in government rather than shrank it.
Bush, responding to Hurricane Dennis in July, set new standards in emergency preparedness and response during his tenure.
» Emergency Preparedness
In the most recent round of Pentagon base closings, Florida triumphed, netting 2,757 jobs even as many states lost posts and civilian and military personnel. Bush made saving Florida bases a priority and since the start of his governorship has met twice a year with Florida-based unit commanders. "This is something (former governor and senator) Bob Graham suggested I do," Bush says. The state widened roads, upgraded water and sewer capacity, and spent $745 million to buy land around bases to prevent encroachment -- all to make Florida bases places the Pentagon wouldn't want to shut. With no additional round of BRAC scheduled, Florida is likely to hang on to its current military jobs for some time.
Bush evolved a long way from the firebrand who singled out Florida's popular land-preservation program as a target for budget cuts when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. After winning office in 1998, Bush delivered on promises to create a bold, $1-billion successor to Florida's land-preservation program that became known as Florida Forever. In 2000, he signed the state's Everglades Restoration Investment Act, committing Florida to half the $8-billion cost of restoration. As legislation moved through Congress, Bush spent enormous energy and political capital to make sure it passed. Meanwhile, Florida Forever saved more than a million acres of Florida since 2000.
Recently, Bush helped oversee the largest contiguous conservation land purchase in Florida history -- 74,000 acres of southwest Florida's Babcock Ranch. Bush also steered preservation policy in a new, and controversial, direction -- often relying on conservation easements that keep land in private hands, as with the Babcock Ranch deal, in which the state will preserve most of the land but a developer will hold onto 18,000 acres to build a new town. The legacy of such decisions won't be known for decades. It's fair to say Bush followed the pattern of every modern Florida governor, championing environmental protection and growth management unless the economic stakes were too high. Eric Draper, a policy official with Audubon of Florida, says Bush's record "has been more green than not."
Bush's growth-management record leaves less of a legacy. Proposed reforms in 2000 and 2001 to close loopholes in the system failed, and none of his proposals will leave as much growth-management impact as the 2005 water supply bill steered by Sen. Paula Dockery.
The 'e-governor': Bush's use of a laptop and e-mail is part of a hands-on approach to managing the governor's office.
Bush's administration made a big splash early with e-government initiatives, including the state's official website, myflorida.com. The state made numerous services, including vehicle and professional license registration, state agency procurement and corporate filings, available online.
More recently, however, progress has stalled, clouding Bush's legacy. A 2005 Brown University report on state and federal e-government ranked Florida 31st, down from 13th only a year earlier.
» One Florida
Six years after Bush repealed affirmative action programs for state contracts and university admissions, prompting demonstrations that harkened back to the 1960s, One Florida's results are mixed. On the contracting side, Bush can point to successes. The governor's staff says that since 1999, certified minority spending by state agencies has increased 164%, from $263 million in fiscal year 1999 to $694 million in 2005.
At Florida's universities, the percentage of Hispanic students has continued to climb, but lower out-of-state admissions dropped the percentage of African-American students on campus slightly this year. The legacy factor is limited: Because One Florida is an executive order, Bush's successor can decide whether to keep it or chart a new direction.
Bush's efforts to outsource the work of state government were ambitious but lacked the accountability he tried hard to weave into other aspects of state government. In June 2003, Bush's inspector general found the state's contracts with private companies "in a state of disrepair." Government employees often have been unsophisticated in negotiating the best deal on behalf of the state, and some privatization efforts have been marred by inappropriate relations between vendors and state officials. The state's huge new privatized personnel system, People First, has performed poorly, botching paychecks for thousands of state employees -- including many in the state Capitol.
Bush has moved to provide more oversight with his Center for Efficient Government. But the jury is still out on whether that will be enough to fix the problems with privatization. In all, Bush calculates that privatization during his tenure has saved taxpayers nearly $600 million. The real test of his legacy on the issue will be in his most ambitious privatization effort yet: Shifting the state's $15-billion Medicaid program to private insurers, an effort that will play out mostly after he has left office.
» Turnpike Enterprise
Early in his administration, Bush considered whether to sell Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, the authority that operates toll roads in the state. He made it a quasi-autonomous arm of the state Department of Transportation instead, and the authority, free of many bureaucratic restrictions, has become one of the most entrepreneurial and effective parts of state government.
» Social Agenda
Whatever their polarizing effects on the electorate, Bush-supported social initiatives have left little lasting impact on Florida. Courts undid abortion-related laws requiring parental notification and limiting late-term abortions. "Generally, we've not been as successful in giving women when they're confronted with this choice, which they have a legal right to make, with more loving options," Bush says. The courts also struck down a 2003 law intended to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo.
» Next Generation
The Republican ascendancy provided entree into state government for some of the GOP's best and brightest young people. Bush, for his part, surrounded himself with wave after wave of tireless young true-believer acolytes who kept the administration's energy level high. Some have gone on to lucrative careers in lobbying, but it's too early to know if Bush's example will lead many to seek public office or careers in public service. Bush's biggest legacy in this regard may be his elder son, George Prescott Bush, who has gotten media attention as a confident, attractive campaigner and heir to the family's political ambitions. In His Own Words
I'm really not focused on my legacy. It's not in my nature to be particularly reflective anyway.
We're still a weak constitutional executive compared to places like New Jersey, where the New Jersey governor can line-item veto budget appropriations and put in the budget any number they like. Can you imagine having that power?
I think it's really important to have a strong executive in a state as dynamic as Florida. Because I think if you allow the Legislature to be the dominant policy-maker and they begin to micromanage the executive, then you get paralysis. In a state like Florida, you need to seize the opportunity and deal with the problems and move on.
I'm sure I've changed. I just haven't had time to reflect on it. I have a deeper respect for public servants, people that work in government, not just the ones that work in our office that will probably leave when I go, but people who are career people. I think I appreciate their service more now, having been here seven years, than when I was running, for sure.
There should be a discussion. There should be some mention of the fact that evolution is not the ... that there are some unanswered questions in life. I would consider myself, I guess, a creationist because I think God created the heavens and the earth. That makes me a creationist, doesn't it? I don't think my views should be imposed to create the Sunshine skills standards or the standards for curriculum development. That should be done by teachers and education professionals.
My faith also makes it hard for me to issue death warrants. I can tell you that it's not easy for me. It troubles me ... even with these incredibly atrocious crimes that are committed. It's a joyful existence around here but for that.
The job ... is kind of fun. It's a place where you can steal other people's ideas, and they don't seem to be too upset about it. I'm going to miss that a lot.
I will be the first and I hope not the only governor ... to have cut taxes every year, and I'm proud of it. I love it. I just think it's fantastic, and I like it when people get mad that I do it, that I propose it and I'm proud of it. And I think it's humorous that they get mad.
I'm not sure that I can ever have a job like this, so I may have to just recast the whole thought process because if I compare it to this, it will pale.
My brother, whenever he comes here, pulls up in this gigantoid blue baby ... you got to get goose bumps when you see Air Force One land -- it doesn't matter who's in there coming off the plane ... it's just an awesome thing. When he leaves, after he comes and does his thing, he looks over, when I'm with him, he'll point over, "is that your little plane over there?"
In a state like Florida you need to seize the opportunity and deal with the problems and move on. This is not a static place. This is not a place for stasis thinking. This is a place for dynamic action.
In spite of our problems, we are in our ascendancy right now. There's only two ways you go in life, whether it's your own personal life or your business or your state. You're either in your ascendancy or in your decline. You don't stay in place anymore. The world moves too fast.