Jeb Bush left the Governor’s office over six years ago, yet his influence continues to permeate our state. This past weekend, Charlie Crist the Democratic front runner for Governor made a ridiculous statement for the ages.
“Yeah, I think he (Bush) probably would (make a good president). He made a great governor, in my humble opinion. He’s a good man…I don’t agree with him on everything…but when I saw him as Governor (of Florida) when I was Attorney General—and they’re elected separately in Florida—we had a lot of hurricanes, and Jeb Bush did a great job protecting our beautiful Florida during that (period).”
I find this very interesting particularly because those of us involved in politics at the time knew Bush didn’t care for Crist’s brand of populism which conflicted directly with the hard-right ideological agenda the Governor was pushing on the state of Florida. Bush marginalized Crist as Commissioner of Education just months into his term in 2001, and worked behind the scenes to defeat him in the 2002 Attorney General GOP Primary. Bush governed with conviction based on an ideology developed in right-wing think tanks across the country. That meant an opportunist like Crist couldn’t carry his legacy forward and he knew it. In 2006, Bush’s allies worked for Tom Gallagher until it was painfully obvious Crist would smash him in the Republican Primary.
What I also find appalling is the willingness of desperate Florida Democrats devoid of any institutional memory to excuse Crist’s comments. Jeb Bush from the perspective of a true progressive was a worse Governor than Rick Scott. The current Governor is a bit of a bumbling fool, a non-politician whose instincts are conservative but really doesn’t have much of a larger agenda or the desire to be a national figure. But Bush was a national figure from the word go, a person who used Florida as a laboratory to push right-wing ideas untested in other states on education, tort reform, medical malpractice and guns. Many of these schemes were hatched and promoted by out-of-state conservatives, and think-tanks in Washington DC. In Jeb Bush, they found a willing vehicle to undo the 24 years of progress under three exceptional Democratic Governors. They turned Florida from the envy of the south to the laughing-stock of the nation.
Charlie Crist was an active bystander during much of this period. When it suited him he identified with Bush. When it didn’t suit him he played populist. That Crist would want to identify with Bush now as a Democrat, and many Florida Democrats I have spoken to over the last 24 hours think it is okay or just slightly unfortunate is appalling.
Bush was a horrible Governor. He failed to deliver on job promises and his funneling of state funds to Scripps Research Center now looks like a disaster. By contrast, Rick Scott has done better (though not great) with creating jobs and relocating facilities from other states with long-term potential upside. Scott can and needs to do better for our state but when compared to Bush’s sorry legacy in less difficult economic times, it is very telling.
Since Bush and his allies began pushing for school “reforms” Florida’s ratings in academic progress and higher education have continued to decline and we have seen countless for-profit schools go out of business. The “reforms” pushed by Bush including an over emphasis on standardized testing has contributed to a downturn in morale among Florida’s best and brightest teachers. Despite all of this, Bush’s allies (which might include Crist for all we know) continue to push “reforms” which cast aspersions on the public school system when in fact the failures in the education system have come from the inadequate funding, constant tinkering of standards, over-emphasis on testing and the push for charter schools/vouchers during the Bush & Crist Governorships.
The national and state media continue to give Jeb Bush credit for being wonkier on policy, especially when compared to his older brother George W. Bush. From those same pundits we consistently hear about Jeb as a 2016 contender but the reality is that Florida’s Bush is every bit as petty and partisan as Karl Rove and probably more so than his brother, who I don’t think we as harmful to our nation on domestic issues (obviously two wars were) as Jeb Bush was to this state. In Texas, Rove worked with Republican legislators and statewide officials to curb the power and influence of the trial lawyers, whose campaign contributions kept the Democrats competitive against the corporate funded GOP. De-funding the left was the mantra and in Florida, the younger Bush repeated the trick by curbing the power, influence and ultimately the spirit of the trial lawyers and the teachers unions. This was the goal of Jeb Bush’s governorship: to fundamentally remake the political playing field in the state in favor of big business, insurance companies, for-profit schools and polluters. He was successful.
Florida Democrats can do better than simply accepting the premise now circulating that Jeb Bush was a moderate and that he was much less ideological than Rick Scott. I am not sure what exactly Charlie Crist’s agenda is in this matter, but he’s making a fool out of himself, especially considering he is running for Governor as a DEMOCRAT.
We’ve spoken previously on our site about the lack of institutional memory among so many Florida Democrats of today. This is just another example. Making a comment like this should have Crist either apologizing, clarifying or dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Instead the outrage is muted and those on the “inside” in the party act as if this is no big deal.