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Bush shows reason, not revenge in vetoes

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 20, 2001

Lots of people are mad at Gov. Jeb Bush this week.

According to his numerous critics, even his fellow Republicans, the governor is in favor of . . .

Kids getting hurt on motor scooters and in car crashes, babies getting hurt in crib accidents, not fighting juvenile delinquency, not detecting learning disabilities and, let's see, oh yeah, cancer.

Members of the Senate and House and various interest groups have accused Bush of being arbitrary, arrogant and vengeful. Furthermore, his actions are ill-considered. He is out of touch. His staff is immature. He wears bad ties. He does not make his funk the P-funk.

In short, you can tell from all the carping that this is the annual season when the governor decides which acts of the Legislature he will veto.

I say, huzzah for the governor.

Bush vetoed several things passed by the 2001 Legislature that needed to be vetoed. He vetoed them even when it hurt his fellow Republicans. He vetoed them even when he made himself politically vulnerable. (C'mon, who wants to be accused of favoring unsafe cribs?) Many of his vetoes smack of principle.

Please understand, this is not a love letter. The governor eagerly signed into law several bad things. He and the Legislature this year grabbed raw political power over Florida's judges, universities and civil servants.

But you cannot fault the governor for simply signing what he already favored. If you don't like that stuff, then vote against him next year.

Instead, it is more useful to examine what Bush was against:

He vetoed a bill that would have required car seats for all kids under 9 years old. That's N-I-N-E, niner, eight-plus-one, NINE years old.

"We are disappointed," said AAA spokeswoman Diane Jones, "because this law could have saved children's lives."

Sure. It also would save children's lives if we kept them locked up in the closet until they were 18. Bush has been a reliable opponent of the nanny state.

Meanwhile, every citizen should stand up and cheer the governor's veto of a massive "transportation" bill that really was chock-full of pet projects and screwy ideas. Among the 200 changes to state law crammed into the bill: looser standards for new marinas, a break for billboard companies, a new state license tag for golfers and requiring helmets for kids on motorized scooters.

"It was a totally reasonable child safety measure," said state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of the helmet law, "and it is mind-boggling that he would veto it as over-regulation."

No, it isn't. The overall bill was bad.

The governor whacked $290-million out of the $55-billion state budget with his line-item veto. This is the third-highest total in history (the top two were Bush's vetoes in 1999 and 2000), and almost double any previous governor's.

Most of Bush's targets were projects put into the budget by individual legislators, sometimes without a full discussion or hearing. No doubt, they were for good causes -- who can be against the Boys' Club? -- but that wasn't enough.

Bush's critics allege that he sometimes acted out of revenge politics, angry at Senate President John McKay for not backing a bigger tax cut. Bush killed more than $25-million for projects in counties represented by McKay.

But that is the Senate's way of looking at things -- if you are not with us, you are our enemy. Another way of looking at things is that McKay used his position as Senate president to stuff too many goodies into the budget.

This same John McKay was here in Pinellas County last week giving a speech in which he said: "If you're really sneaky, you can slide some things in. That's sort of the sport."

Call it revenge if you want. Or maybe the governor is just not as inclined as John McKay to think that blowing other people's money is "sport."

- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at

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