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