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Gov. Bush fights off lame duck tendencies

On the coattails of his brother's re-election, the governor plans to stick to his agenda during his last two years of office.

By Associated Press
Published November 9, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush is vowing to defy tradition and advance his agenda during the last two years of his final term, his hopes buoyed by the strong voter support in Florida that helped cinch his brother's re-election.

His plans include making substantive changes to how Florida handles growth, revamping how public universities are controlled, refining education reform and, with President Bush's assistance, restructuring Medicaid in a way he hopes will become a model for the nation.

"I've made a commitment to myself, to the people I love, that I serve, that I'm going to finish as strong as I started," Bush said last week after his brother won. But the governor no longer has a political campaign to hold over fellow Republicans, and his agenda will have to compete with jockeying over who will succeed him in 2006, some lawmakers said.

"My biggest concern is the extent to which gubernatorial politics may splinter the Legislature into taking sides," said incoming Senate President Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican. "If it doesn't happen with the right decorum, it really could digress into something distasteful."

Lee predicts legislative battles will erupt over issues designed to help either Attorney General Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher or Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings as they position themselves to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2006.

Democrats are also likely to find ways to help their expected candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa or state Sen. Rod Smith of Gainesville.

House Speaker Allan Bense, a Panama City Republican who leads the chamber that has traditionally been more deferential to Bush than the Senate has, thinks Bush is stronger than most lame ducks because of his White House connections.

"If President Bush had not been the governor's brother I'm not sure we would get 90 percent coverage in federal emergency money for the hurricanes," Bense said. "It bodes well. It'll help Jeb in his last two years to get the bulk of his agenda through."

Sen. Les Miller, the incoming Senate Democratic leader from Tampa, believes that, unlike in previous years, the House will not work as "a rubber stamp for the governor."

"This time the governor will have to learn how to work with Tom Lee and Allan Bense because they're different type of leaders," Miller said. "They're more moderate."

Lee and Bense say neither will be a rubber stamp for the governor, but they both also say the governor will have no trouble pursuing his initiatives.

Lee has already put growth management and increasing accountability of the university boards of trustees on his priority list.

The first tests for Bush and the Legislature's new leaders will be a special session in December, where they will grapple with problems caused by this year's hurricanes and try to pass legislation to implement a prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds.

[Last modified November 9, 2004, 00:26:24]

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