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Bush answers NFL buzz: I'm governor

Gov. Jeb Bush is downplaying the rumors that he might replace retiring NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Published May 25, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - A month and a half ago, Gov. Jeb Bush met with a well-connected dog track owner from Palm Beach who said he intended to pass on Bush's name as a candidate for the job of running the National Football League.

In a private meeting, Bush spoke with Palm Beach Kennel Club owner Patrick Rooney Sr., whose brother Dan owns the Pittsburgh Steelers and co-chairs the committee charged with replacing the retiring NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue.

Bush's NFL prospects first surfaced as a rumor last week on the Buzz, the political blog of the St. Petersburg Times. At the time, Bush brushed off a Times reporter's question about it. But Tuesday, Bush acknowledged to reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he had spoken with Rooney.

By Wednesday, Bush was back to clamming up, insisting that he won't discuss future job opportunities with anyone until his term's up.

"I said, 'I'm flattered, but I'm governor of the state of Florida,' " Bush said on Wednesday. "And I'm not going to consider any other options, other than being governor, until I finish."

Bush has given no indication - except to deny a 2008 presidential run - of what he wants to do after he's out of a job in January 2007. He has suggested that he needs to make some money. His net worth has declined while he's been in office. The former real estate developer has bemoaned missing out on the biggest real estate boom in the nation's history.

Tagliabue's salary is estimated to be about $9.5-million per season.

As for his meeting with Patrick Rooney Sr., Bush didn't say how or where it occurred, or even who brought up the subject. However, he did describe the conversation as "not serious."

Tagliabue, who has had the job since 1989, announced his retirement in March. He had originally set a target step-down date for July but has pushed that goal back to Aug. 18. A committee of NFL owners, led by Rooney, is conducting the search for a replacement.

Other hot political names that have surfaced as possible NFL commissioner candidates, based mostly on pure NFL-watcher speculation or half-joking interest: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

When the Times asked the governor in an e-mail last week if he had talked with anyone about employment with the NFL after leaving office, Bush replied with a terse e-mail that appeared to dismiss the rumor. "I am not discussing any post governorship opportunities with anyone until my term is over. I will finish out my term. Over and out. I appreciate your interest in my future!" he wrote last Thursday.

On Wednesday, Bush downplayed any interest and even joked about the issue, which has stirred a media frenzy nationwide. "I could also be the, you know, the commissioner of the sumo wrestling federation. How about that?" Bush said. "That's even better. The American branch."

Associated Press and Times Staff Writer Joni James and Times Staff Researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 25, 2006, 05:26:45]

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