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Bush rolls the video to open Legislature

In his State of the State speech, the governor defends One Florida and puts on a show to help push his Republican agenda.

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- As thousands of protesters marched outside the Capitol on Tuesday, Gov. Jeb Bush insisted his new approach to minority outreach was already working and called on lawmakers to pass his mix of tax breaks, spending on Everglades and help for the disabled.

Bush spent part of his annual State of the State defending his One Florida effort to eliminate race and gender preferences and promised that no one will be left behind. But Bush, determined to stick to a traditional Republican agenda in his second State of the State speech, also called for less government and more tax cuts.

He used videos of several Floridians and America Online President Steve Case to make his points as he urged legislators to help build "the high tech government of the future." He stressed the need to eliminate the state's intangible tax on stocks and bonds and urged legislators to spend $100-million saving the Everglades and called for more help for the developmentally disabled.

John Satterwhite, a disabled Tampa man who works at the Museum of Science and History, appeared in one of the governor's videos to support Bush's efforts to help those with disabilities. He had a place of honor in the front row of the House chamber.

Norman Stoker, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Tampa, praised the governor's call for an end to the intangibles tax, saying it makes it harder for him to hang on to the nest egg he needs to care for a mentally handicapped child who still lives at home.

"Every year, every year, the intangibles tax comes along and takes a little piece of it," Stoker said. "I don't know how many people know it, but this is a tax on savings."

Glen and Cindy Sharpe, Thonotosassa residents, also appeared by video to support Bush's tax cut plan.

A spokesman for the governor said some of the Floridians who appeared in videos had contacted the governor by mail.

Case, the AOL executive, is an e-mail correspondent with the governor. While Bush was still speaking, House Democrats passed out a page pulled from the Internet indicating that Case contributed $1,000 for the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush in June 1999.

Bush's speech kicked off the 60-day annual legislative session that ends May 5. The videos -- a new addition to the annual State of the State address -- were paid for by the state Republican Party.

Bush urged legislators to approve a $720-million increase in public school funding, spend an additional $34-million to fight illegal drug use, and $15-million more for substance abuse programs among juveniles and prisons.

He also reiterated his call for a $4-billion transportation initiative that would speed up road construction on many of the state's overloaded highways.

He also called for an additional $500-million tax cut this year after praising legislators for last year's $1-billion in tax cuts.

About half of the Legislature's 20 black members remained in the flower-bedecked House chamber for the governor's speech. The rest were outside with the crowd protesting the governor's effort to eliminate race, gender and ethnicity as a factor in university admissions and state contracting.

As Bush entered the House chamber to make his speech, he was escorted by Sen. Jim Hargrett, D-Tampa, and Reps. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, and Beryl Roberts, D-Miami, all members of the Black Caucus who have supported many of the governor's programs.

Reaction to the governor's speech divided along partisan and racial lines.

"The governor says he hasn't left anyone behind," said House Democratic Leader Les Miller Jr. of Tampa. "He left all African Americans behind the day he signed the One Florida initiative."

In a formal, televised response to Bush's speech, Democrats called on the governor to support health care reforms, gun safety and school reforms that would lower classroom sizes, increase teacher pay and eliminate overcrowding.

The Democrats also urged the governor and Republican legislators to forget about tax cuts and use the money to meet the state's critical needs.

"While our economy is growing and people are working, we have an historic opportunity to ensure children enter school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed," urged Rep. Cynthia Chestnut, D-Gainesville.

Senate Democratic leader Buddy Dyer criticized Bush for his failure to mention needed health care reforms despite support for HMO reforms among Republicans and Democrats.

"It was more style than substance," Dyer said.

Some legislators were a bit more philosophical about the day.

"It's always interesting at the beginning of the session," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "Everybody has got new suits and dyed hair, and their speeches are always pleasant. It will be interesting to see what their speeches are like at the end of this 60 days."

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