November 29, 2023

Cover Story - Jeb Bush

Jeb's Legacy

Jeb bush's record has esxtablished him as one of the most influential governors in Florida's modern history.

Mark R. Howard | 3/1/2006

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.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Education, Government/Politics & Law

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