December 1, 2022

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

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."

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

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