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Bush, Peterson talk state security

While few specifics were discussed, Gov. Jeb Bush says he values the expertise of the former Vietnam ambassador.

By STEVE BOUSQUET

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 27, 2001


While few specifics were discussed, Gov. Jeb Bush says he values the expertise of the former Vietnam ambassador.

TALLAHASSEE -- Five days after dropping his campaign for governor, former Vietnam ambassador Pete Peterson met with Gov. Jeb Bush Wednesday to discuss a possible role for Peterson in a planned state anti-terrorism agency.

"His expertise is something that all Floridians value, so I thought it would be appropriate to visit," said Bush, who emphasized that he did not offer Peterson a job. "No strings attached, no hidden agendas, no nuances, no nothing, but just a simple conversation about what our efforts are, ongoing efforts as it relates to security, and to seek out his advice."

The Republican governor said he called Peterson, a Democrat, for a visit Monday after reading what he called Peterson's "very moving" remarks last week. Peterson, 66, a decorated former Air Force fighter pilot, North Vietnamese prisoner of war and first postwar envoy to Vietnam, ended his brief campaign with a call to "put aside all partisan considerations and fully support our national leadership."

Peterson said he realized that he did not want to run for governor, but instead to help "unite" Floridians "to make sure that we protect the quality of life of our wonderful Sunshine State."

After a 45-minute meeting, Peterson said: "If I'm called to do something, I very likely would give it very strong appraisal."

Bush said he has decided to create a state agency to coordinate local and state security needs.

"Someone to coordinate the vast array of issues that relate to security in the new reality, post-Sept. 11, I think is appropriate," Bush said. "What we're looking at is the structure of how that should operate."

Bush said he envisions the agency as "more of a coordinator" among various local and state governments responsible for all aspects of security.

Sen. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, has proposed a state Division of Homeland Security headed by a Bush appointee under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The office would work on everything from foreign student visas to licensing of flight training schools to disaster preparedness to a statewide database of security information.

Sanderson made the proposal soon after President Bush named Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head a federal Office of Homeland Security.

"The last thing I favor is more bureaucracy," Sanderson said in a statement, "but the recent attack of terror on America calls for more stringent security measures."

A cordial meeting between the Republican governor and his Democratic would-be successor would have seemed unthinkable before Sept. 11. But even before the attacks, some Democrats said, Peterson was struggling to raise money and name recognition in a Democratic field dominated by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Former state Rep. Mike Abrams, a Miami area lobbyist who organized a Peterson reception a few weeks ago and who saw the candidate up close, questioned whether Peterson had "the appetite" for a grueling race in which Reno was the presumptive nominee. Abrams called Peterson a "patriot" who was putting country first by ending his campaign.

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