In his State of the State address to the Legislature, the governor challenges lawmakers to solve Florida's problems.
By LUCY MORGAN and DIANE RADO
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Like a general trying to inspire the troops, Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday appealed to the Legislature to join his "revolution" to reshape state government and improve the quality of life for all Floridians.
"Every revolution necessarily begins with one person, relentlessly pursuing a deep and compelling internal vision. Why shouldn't that revolution begin with you?" Bush asked on opening day of the 2001 legislative session.
In his annual State of the State address, the governor challenged lawmakers to solve some of the state's toughest problems, from improving nursing homes and modernizing elections to managing rampant growth.
As he looked at a sea of new faces brought to town largely by term limits -- 12 new members of the Senate and 63 new members of the House -- Bush urged lawmakers to charge forward even if they lack political experience.
"Many people will come to you, our freshmen legislators, like they did to me . . . and tell you to slow down, kill some time and learn the system," the 48-year-old Republican governor said. "But you should know this: If you take too long, time and the system will kill your ability to cause meaningful change."
He also tried to make peace with Democrats stung by the prolonged presidential election battle in Florida that put Bush's brother George W. Bush in the White House.
"It is time, no, it is past time, to accept responsibility and share accomplishments as one, as a group committed to the higher principles of public service," Bush said.
Democrats were predictably quick to criticize Bush's speech, in which he spent a great deal of time highlighting his accomplishments over the past two years.
Tom Rossin, the Democratic leader in the Senate from West Palm Beach, called the speech "a lesson in great public relations" that "barely passes the straight-face test."
"I urge Floridians to listen not to what Gov. Bush says but rather watch what he does," Rossin said.
Bush reiterated his priority to phase out the state's intangibles tax on stocks and bonds. But even some Republicans are sounding reluctant to lower taxes in a tight budget year, as lawmakers face spending cuts in some education programs, social services and other areas.
Tax cuts were noticeably absent from Senate President John McKay's address to the Senate Tuesday morning. McKay's top priorities are helping children with learning disabilities, eliminating homelessness and improving care for seniors.
As is the tradition, lawmakers' desks were bedecked with flower arrangements Tuesday.
The day's events were in contrast to last year's opening day of the session, when thousands of African-Americans marched to protest Bush's plan to eliminate state affirmative action policies.
Organizers of that march held a prayer meeting in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.
"Bush has a lot of bridge building to do in the African-American community," said state Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami. Minorities say they voted on archaic voting machines in the November election.
In his speech, Bush urged legislators to "dedicate the resources that are needed to modernize our voting systems and move forward with confidence into the next election cycle."
He also called on them to follow his lead on making controversial changes to the state employment system, which Bush says will make government more efficient like the private sector. State workers fear Bush's reforms will give them less protection from arbitrary firings.
Bush also boasted that in his first two years he had cut taxes and improved public education -- cutting significantly the number of failing schools in the state -- as well as reducing crime and drug abuse.
He said crimes committed with guns are down 20 percent in a single year as a result of a bill that increases the penalties for using a gun in a crime. He also paused for a moment to honor his wife, Columba, for her efforts in promoting drug treatment programs.
"I'm pleased to say that the state of our beloved state is good. Indeed it is very good," Bush said.
But it was 11-year old Jesus Alvarez, a fifth-grader at Bent Tree Elementary School in Miami, who captured the day. Sitting in the front row of the House Gallery next to Mrs. Bush, Jesus broke into a broad grin as Bush played a videotape of him reciting a poem about the the state's FCAT test for public school students.
"FCAT oh FCAT, we work for you every year
Sometimes you scare us, but it's only our fear
We learn to solve problems, and also to read
Our teachers make sure that in life we'll succeed."
"When I visited Bent Tree Elementary, Jesus reminded me, and I think reminds us all, that change and new ideas can seem pretty scary at first. But he also reminds us what can be achieved when we challenge ourselves, what can be achieved in just two years," Bush said.
- Staff writers Shelby Oppel, Julie Hauserman and Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.