Jeb Bush on One Florida

Former Gov. Jeb Bush looks back on his controversial One Florida policy and sees success.

Published March 18, 2007

Former Gov. Jeb Bush's 1999 decision to do away with affirmative action in college admissions and some state contracts was one of his most controversial. The policy, One Florida, changed the means to obtaining diversity in government for the first time in decades.

Seven years later, as a new governor takes office, the results are mixed. While Florida now contracts with far more minority vendors and enrolls 51 percent more Hispanic college students, black student enrollment hasn't kept pace with overall growth. Black students now make up 13.8 percent of the student body instead of 14.4 percent in 1999.

Both Bush and Gov. Charlie Crist answered questions recently from Times reporter Joni James. Bush responded by e-mail. Crist was interviewed in person.

What do you think One Florida's record shows?

The results show success.

From 1999 to 2006, minority enrollment in state universities increased by 44 percent. African-American enrollment increased from 33,011 to 39,528, and Hispanic enrollment increased from 32,776 to 48,821.

These results didn't just happen. Florida did more than just eliminate race-based admissions. One Florida replaced a system of different standards for different ethnic and racial groups with a comprehensive approach to ensure students are prepared to enter and succeed in college. The results are that we have more minority Florida students college-bound, while California and Texas have seen dramatic declines.

One Florida created the "Talented 20" Program, which guaranteed admission to a state university to the top 20 percent of students from each public high school.

In 2001, we created the Florida Partnership with the College Board to get more students, especially minorities, interested and prepared to succeed in college. During my eight years, we increased funding for need-based financial assistance from about $40-million to nearly $117-million. In 2006, we added an additional source of funding through the First Generation Matching Grant Program, which helps families pay tuition for students who are first in their family to attend college, many of whom are minorities.

Our record also shows there are no silver bullets. Cultural change doesn't happen by itself. It is a process. You need to continually challenge the status quo and implement new reforms.

What lessons do you think One Florida or your administration's record on diversity holds for private-sector corporate culture, good and bad?

Diversity is good business and good for business. From 1999, government increased spending with certified minority businesses nearly 300 percent, from $263-million to $761-million. Spending by Governor's agencies increased more than 400 percent, from $150-million to $621-million.

Surrounding yourself with diverse people makes you a stronger leader. Diversity, particularly in leadership roles, strengthened my administration.

Cultural change requires bold reform, and bold reform requires courage and stamina. You need to make a commitment and stick with it through good times and bad.

Any regrets about One Florida? Anything you would have done differently in hindsight or wish you could have addressed?

Communication, communication, communication. We were changing the culture. Too often in the public dialogue about race issues, people are judged on what they say rather than what they do. Accusations of doom create fear, and fear is a major obstacle to change - even if it is for the better. It takes an awful lot of hard work, persistence and constant communication to overcome that fear and mistrust.