GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush left the Governor’s office over eight years ago, yet his influence continues to dominate the legislative agenda of the state GOP. His views on education have been particularly damaging and each GOP legislator in our state must pass a “Bush litmus test” on education in order to be in the good graces of party activists and donors. But when Bush was Governor, he eventually lost the support of many GOP lawmakers in Florida.
While at first Republicans signed on in lock-step to Bush’s “reforms” cracks in the support for school “choice” have been apparent for a decade now. Many Republican elected officials have realized for all of the phony organizations and big corporate cash splashed on the school “choice” effort, that grassroots support for anything that destroys the public schools system is minimal even among self-proclaimed conservatives.
Bush failed to deliver on job promises and his funneling of state funds to Scripps Research Center now looks like a disaster. Since Bush 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 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 & Scott Governorships.Now Bush seeks to push this radical agenda forward nationally using his candidacy for President as a vehicle.
When he was Governor, Bush was always confident bordering on cocky. His self-assurance and quite frankly his arrogance rubbed most the wrong way including many Republicans. Since jumping into the Presidential race, he’s appeared to be less shrill but also less confident/consistent in his words and mannerisms. Perhaps this is simply the works of handlers trying to make Bush appear more humble during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Maybe it’s some growing as Bush has gone from being a younger conservative ideologue committed to making Florida the center of right-wing think tank inspired legislation to phony senior party statesman.
Yet behind all of the Bush machismo, one can sense growing insecurity. Bush does not have the influence he thought he did with Republicans both here at home in Florida and across the country. The Donald Trump phenomena no matter how humorous for those who actually use of brain to critically analyze things does clearly show Jeb’s weaknesses among Republicans. His greatest cheerleaders remain those seeking education “reform” and the so-called intellectual wing of the conservative movement who read such magazines as the Weekly Standard and National Review. Mainline conservatism has moved beyond him while his Florida legacy is in shambles.
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 the 2016 front-runner 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. 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. Defunding 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.
Bush cannot run from his record as Governor. It is in fact something that will give both Republicans and other voters pause. Moreover, Bush’s inability at times to work well with members of his own party might be instructive on how he deals with Congress should he be elected as President.