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The Buzz: Florida politics

An interview with an upbeat governor

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 30, 2005


Gov. Jeb Bush predicts withdrawal pains when he steps down from "the most amazing job in the world." He's sick of FEMA bashing. He's annoyed with his father's national security adviser criticizing his brother's foreign policy. He's worried that citizens and some Republican leaders don't adequately appreciate his education reforms.

And in a wide-ranging TV interview, Bush also clearly left the door open to be tapped as someone's vice president.

The governor, upbeat but weary from hurricane duty, sat down with the Times and Bay News 9 for today's debut of Political Connections. (It airs at 11 a.m. every Sunday and can be seen any time on Monday on Channel 340.) The Buzz from Bush:

He won't peg either Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Crist or Tom Gallagher, as the most likely to carry his philosophical torch.

"That would be unfair. They're their own men, they'll have their own agenda. But I believe they'll be true to Republican principles. . . . It will be a spirited primary, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. My hope is I can play a role in being the bad guy, if you will. Let the Democrats go after me. I will defend our record and allow (Crist and Gallagher) to finish off their primary and come unscathed into a general election."

Bush has started a private foundation to tout his education record and is meeting behind closed doors with Republican legislators to tout his education record. That's no indication, he said, that he doubts the commitment Crist or Gallagher have to his education agenda.

"My concern is there's a disconnect between the achievement gains that we've had and people's perceptions - and even policymakers' perceptions. . . . There's a group of emerging leaders in the Legislature, and I think it's important for them to know what we've done and the continuous movement forward that we've achieved. . . . It'll also be a campaign issue in 2006. Whoever the Democratic (gubernatorial) nominee is, I can give their speech already. So I want to give the retort already."

The governor remains uncomfortable with comparisons to his brother George: "Up in Washington there's two things that happen. Either they use me as an example of why my brother is horrible - by some stupid thing I've done - or they use me as an example of why my brother's horrible - by some good thing I've done. . . . He has done an incredible job. You think about what our country has gone through since 2000. He was dealt with a hand that certainly creates the opportunity to excel under adverse conditions, and I believe he's done it."

With the U.S. death toll in Iraq hitting 2,000 and public support for the war ebbing, the governor still thinks invading Iraq was correct and that "we're on the right track." He's aware that one of his father's most trusted advisers, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, is back in the news harshly criticizing the decision to invade Iraq.

"Gen. Scowcroft has been a critic of Bush 43's foreign policy from the get-go. I don't know why. Next time I see him, I'm going to ask him, because it's kind of getting on my nerves, to be honest with you. But I think the decision was the right one. . . . I try to call all the parents or wives of loved ones (who died in Iraq and) who are from Florida. It's one of the harder things that I have to do. Most of the people that I call appreciate the fact that their child did not die in vain, or their husband did not die in vain."

Bush loves being governor: "I do it with the same enthusiasm now, today, as I did when I started. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I have vowed not to worry about it or think about it until I'm done. The only thing I have said is I'm not running for the United States Senate, I'm not running for president."

Pressed about whether he'd be as clear in ruling out a vice presidential run, the governor demurred: "That's a nuance. . . . I just told you what I said."

Democrats and Republicans, including Sen. Mel Martinez, Bush said, are wrong to think unified Florida opposition is enough to keep oil rigs from the eastern gulf. He says that a controversial plan to allow drilling 125 miles from Florida's shores offers better long-term protection in the face of growing congressional pressure for expanded gulf drilling.

"When politics becomes the sole reason for people's positions against thoughtful policy, then I would suggest it's time to take a deep breath and look at the facts. . . . I could close my eyes and say, "I'm against it, I'm against it, I'm against it,' and hope it goes away. But it's not going to go away."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to improve its recovery efforts, but the country's most hurricane-tested governor was happy to shield the agency from criticism after Wilma: "I've got 460 days left. I don't care if I get an editorial in a newspaper saying something bad about me. . . . My job is to organize the response, which we did a good job on. And if there is any blame or criticism, I'll take it. . . . FEMA just gets the heck kicked out of it and they've been a good partner to us in the state.'

Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news, check out Buzz online at www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz

[Last modified October 30, 2005, 01:12:10]


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