Gov. Jeb Bush (R)|
Last Updated February 25, 2002
term expires Jan. 2003
Born: Feb. 11, 1953,
Education: U. of TX, B.A. 1974
Marital Status: married
- Political: FL Commerce Secy., 1987-88; Candidate for FL Gov., 1994.
- Professional: Pres. & COO, Codina Group, 1981-94; Founder & Chmn., Foundation for Florida's Future, 1995-98.
Office: The Capitol, Tallahassee
904-488-7146; Fax: 904-487-0801; Web: www.state.fl.us.
Jeb Bush was elected governor of Florida in 1998, the second son of former President George Bush to be elected a big state governor in the 1990s. Jeb grew up in Midland and Houston, Texas. He majored in Latin American studies at the University of Texas and there met his wife, Columba, who is originally from Mexico. He speaks Spanish fluently--but with more a Mexican than Cuban accent, he notes. In 1981 he moved to Miami and started a real estate development company. For a year or so he was Commerce secretary under Republican Governor Bob Martinez. With a well-known name and strong convictions on issues, he decided to run for governor in 1994, vanquishing competition in the Republican primary and leading in polls during most of the fall. He called for fewer appeals for death row inmates and speedier executions, said Florida should withdraw from Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replace it with limited temporary assistance, and called for school choice and demanded voter approval of all state and local tax increases. There was a rigid tone to Bush's campaign; when one black man asked him what he would do to help him, Bush replied, "Probably nothing." Incumbent Governor Lawton Chiles responded with negative ads on Bush's business dealings; a Bush ad on crime backfired. Chiles started emphasizing his "cracker" roots and called himself "the he-coon [who] always walks before the light of day." The result was a 51%-49% Chiles victory. It was a polarized election: Blacks were 94% and Jews 75% for Chiles, Cubans 74% and Christian conservatives 91% for Bush.
Bush immediately started running again. He set up a foundation which produced intellectually serious government reform proposals and visited shelters for abused women and children in foster care. Challenged by the teachers' union head to spend more time in classrooms, he visited more than 200 schools and, with the Urban League of Miami, founded and taught at a charter school in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood. Bush lobbied the legislature to cut unemployment taxes in 1997 and to better handle abused children in foster care in 1998. "I started listening more," he said later and, while his positions on issues did not change much, his approach and his tone did. Republican rule "does not mean that we don't need to create consensus and build some common ground." The consensus in Florida had been moving for some time toward Bush--Chiles had produced welfare and reinventing government reforms--and now Bush came some distance toward the consensus.
Bush entered 1998 as the heavy favorite for governor while Democrats inflicted damage on themselves. In January state House Democrats ousted party leader-designate Willie Logan, an African American from Opa-Locka; Bush called Logan and held informal sessions with him and other black legislators, and got endorsements from a black legislator in Broward County and the mayor of Fort Lauderdale. Black legislators joined Republicans in overturning Chiles' vetoes of the partial-birth abortion ban, school vouchers and parental notification of abortions. After Senator Bob Graham and Insurance Commissioner (and now Senator) Bill Nelson said they would not run, Democrats noisily looked for alternatives to the likely nominee, Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay, though MacKay had received good press for his work in office and nearly beat Connie Mack for senator in 1988. In time MacKay found his voice, bragging about the Healthy Kids insurance program and calling for higher education standards and a patients' bill of rights; he attacked Bush on vouchers, abortion and gun control, and criticized "questionable deals" and "mismanagement" in his business. Bush won 55%-45%. The electorate was a bit less polarized this time: Bush's percentage rose among blacks (to 14%) but was down among Christian conservatives (to 83%). Bush still lost the Gold Coast by a 56%-44% margin despite all his attentions. He won a solid 57%-43% in the I-4 corridor and 61%-39% in the rest of the state. In mid-December Chiles unexpectedly died; his greatest legacy was the tobacco lawsuit which he initiated by pushing through a law changing the standard of proof. Buddy MacKay was governor for the last weeks of the term.
With a Republican legislature, Bush got off to a fast start. He killed a high speed Miami-Orlando "Bullet Train," and pushed through a $1 billion tax cut. He passed an education reform plan, which provided school vouchers for students in schools that persisted in being rated failing; teachers' unions hated this and got a Leon County Circuit Court judge to rule it unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned on appeal. A February 2001 study showed that the threat of vouchers spurred low-performing schools to improve their students' academic performance. Bush got civil justice reform, longer prison terms for gun-toting criminals, and a speedier process for death-penalty appeals, though the latter was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. He vetoed a record $313 million of legislators' pet projects. In mid-1999 Bush was alarmed when Ward Connerly, sponsor of California's 1996 Proposition 209 which outlawed state government racial quotas and preferences, moved to put a similar proposition on the Florida ballot. Bush said Connerly would start a "war" and in November 1999 put forward his own One Florida proposal, to curtail quotas and setasides in state contracts, get rid of quotas and preferences in state colleges and universities and replace them by guaranteeing places in the state's 10 public colleges to the top 20% of every high school graduating class. There was loud protest: Two African-American legislators staged a 25-hour sit-in in the governor's office, and 10,000 protesters chanted while Bush delivered his 2000 State of the State address. But by 2001 minority contracting was up a whopping 90%; meanwhile, Bush had quietly taken a Confederate flag out of the Capitol and sent it to the Florida Museum of History. In 2000 Bush continued to be successful with the legislature, cutting taxes by $500 million, spending $6 billion on roads and getting a $2 billion, 10-year commitment to the bipartisan program to restore the Everglades. The legislature passed a prescription drug program for seniors and Medicaid recipients, expanded KidCare and passed a patient protection plan. Bush supported a new law school for historically black Florida A&M University.
Jeb Bush did not take a highly visible role in the 2000 presidential campaign. He seldom traveled outside Florida and spoke only every week or so with his brother George W. Bush. A more visible role was played by Jeb Bush's 24-year-old son, George P. Bush, who made appearances before Hispanic audiences, cut a TV spot in Spanish and English and spoke at the podium of the Republican National Convention. In the controversy over Florida's vote, Jeb Bush recused himself from the three-member board of elections, substituting Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, a Democrat who endorsed George W. Bush; charges that he orchestrated Secretary of State Katherine Harris' decisions to certify George W. Bush as the winner have foundered for lack of evidence. He did say that he would sign a proclamation by the Florida legislature that the Republican electors had won, but there was nothing to back the charges that somehow the governor of Florida had stolen the election for his brother. The day after the election was decided, he appeared with officials of both parties and announced the formation of a bipartisan commission to study Florida's election procedures. In March 2001 it came forward with its recommendations, including getting rid of punch card ballots, leasing optical scanning equipment for all counties for the 2002 election and setting a uniform standard for recounts; an election reform bill was signed by Governor Bush in May 2001.
There was much speculation during the Florida controversy and after that Bush would have difficulty winning reelection in 2002. Angry Democrats threatened retaliation and black leaders angrily charged that he had stolen the election for his brother. But his standing in public polls remained high, and the best-known state Democrat, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, said that he would not run. In early 2001 Senators Bob Graham and Bill Nelson were trying to recruit Ambassador to Vietnam and former 2nd District Congressman Pete Peterson, who would start off relatively unknown but seemed to have the potential to be a serious statewide competitor. Others mentioned as possible candidates included former Clinton Attorney General and Miami-Dade Attorney Janet Reno, Congressmen Bob Wexler and Jim Davis, state House Democratic leader Lois Frankel, state Senator Daryl Jones, Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox and Tampa attorney Bill McBride. In the meantime, Bush was wrestling with budget problems: the amount of unallocated funds in early 2001 was one-third what it had been a year earlier, and Democrats were attacking him for proposing cuts in the intangibles tax. Bush proposed setting aside $3.8 billion in reserves and cutting spending from projected levels by $1.9 billion. He signed a bill in May 2001 eliminating the state Board of Regents, replacing it with a seven-member board appointed by the governor--a move attacked by Graham--and called for more spending to recruit teachers and improve nursing homes. In January 2001 he attracted national attention when he called on the Interior Department to cancel planned oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico off the Alabama coast. Florida politicians of both parties have long opposed oil drilling in the Gulf off the Florida coast, and Bush claimed that drilling nearby would endanger Florida beaches and threaten the tourism industry, but Vice President Dick Cheney in May said the administration favored drilling.
Competitive. This race is where Democrats would like to exact some retribution for the outcome of the presidential contest. Before November 2000, Bush did not seem particularly vulnerable, but Democrats now appear incredibly energized--especially minorities. There is a long list of Democratic possibilities, including Congressmen Jim Davis and Bob Wexler, former Congressman and Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. Although running a statewide campaign here is difficult and very expensive, the Democratic nominee is likely to be very well funded and the race will be under the national media spotlight.
Update: February 25, 2002
On September 4, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, saying that she had more experience than the other Democratic candidates and would be better able to lead the state. With her high profile and ability to attract media attention, Reno immediately became the front-runner in the nomination battle. Two days after Reno's announcement, Representative Jim Davis, who was previously expected to enter the race, announced that he would not run. Former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson, another prospect for the Democratic nomination, announced on September 21 that he also would not be a candidate. Peterson cited the September 11 terrorist attacks as his reason.
Reno is popular among the state's Democrats, who still harbor ill will against Governor Jeb Bush after the 2000 presidential election. She is a controversial figure, however, after some of her actions during her eight years as attorney general for the Clinton Administration, including her 2000 decision to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba, which still angers Miami's Cuban-American constituency. Another challenge Reno must overcome is criticism that her Parkinson's disease could slow her down. If Reno wins the nomination, the race between her and Bush will be one of the most closely watched in 2002.
||Jeb Bush (R)
|Buddy MacKay (D)
||Jeb Bush (R)
||Lawton Chiles (D)
|Jeb Bush (R)
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