Bush backs Tom Lee in GOP primary

The governor, who usually refrains from choosing sides, endorsed the Senate president's bid for the Republican nomination for chief financial officer.

Published May 17, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Burying their past political differences, Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday endorsed Senate President Tom Lee in his bid to become the state's chief financial officer.

The Valrico Republican faces Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, in the Sept. 5 primary. The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink of Thonotosassa.

"This is no disrespect to Tom's opponent, who I have had a good relationship with over the years. ... I respect Randy Johnson," Bush said. "But we're living in extraordinary times," he continued, adding it is important to have candidates who run on principle and win.

"This is the time for Tom to do that," Bush said.

The governor kept a lid on the endorsement for nearly two weeks. He offered it to Lee privately on the final day of the legislative session, May 5. Bush credits Lee for deftly handling some difficult issues and the power struggle among fellow Republicans.

"I admired his ability to bring people together, to work on big things, to think about the issues that are over the horizon for the state and not be focused on the tyranny of the present," Bush said. "It's the kind of leadership in the executive branch that we need."

Lee called the endorsement, "a wonderful surprise," and acknowledged his past differences with the governor, including medical malpractice reform of 2003. Bush lumped Lee among "wandering senators" who were "off the reservation" and not "committed to meaningful reform."

Calling himself a "tough competitor," Lee said he had a tendency to react with strong words but that he had matured as a politician and that he had high respect for Bush.

Johnson had no immediate reaction.