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Law schools, One Florida converge as all claim victory

Gov. Jeb Bush associates his overhaul of affirmative action with efforts to establish two new law schools.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The session began with 11,000 protesters marching on the Capitol in opposition to Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida plan to overhaul affirmative action.

It ended with Bush promising to approve the creation of two new law schools designed to attract minority students. The once-heated controversy over One Florida was an afterthought to all but a handful of lawmakers during the 60-day session.

"I'm proud to be a part of it," Bush said of the new schools, shortly after the session ended.

He said that even his critics in the Legislature had voted for the creation of the law schools, although the new schools will not be allowed to use race or gender in admissions considerations, which the governor opposes.

"It's ironic," Bush said. "I think the concept's starting to catch on."

The day before, one of the sharpest critics of One Florida, state Sen. Daryl Jones, stopped Bush in a Capitol corridor.

"I want to thank you for your willingness to support the law schools," Jones, D-Miami, told the governor.

Jones, who initially supported One Florida when Bush announced the plan last fall, acknowledged that the tension that opened the session had all but disappeared as lawmakers become absorbed with other issues.

"It could have been different," Jones said.

Winning the law schools has been a goal for Jones and other black and Hispanic lawmakers for years.

Standing in the fourth-floor rotunda in the first minutes after the session, Bush connected the law schools with the minority outreach efforts that are part of One Florida, which the Legislature approved: a $20-million increase in college scholarships for needy students, more than $10-million toward education programs about minority health issues and revising state contracting policies to do more business with minority firms.

"We're kicking butt," Bush said. "You can do this by leadership."

Lawmakers passed measures to make it easier for minority firms to do business with the state and increase penalties for companies that discriminate. The measures were a dramatic step back from Bush's initial plan to rewrite state law to ban race and gender considerations in all state business.

Although Jones and Sen. Kendrick Meek fought the measures, saying they did not go far enough, neither senator fought hard.

"We were of the opinion that One Florida was so weak and watered-down that really wasn't worth a fight," Jones said.

Bush said that it was the merits of his plan that made it pointless to oppose -- and that the law schools were another example of his commitment to minorities.

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