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Governor gives drug issue cold shoulder

Jeb Bush rebuffs reporters when asked about his brother's rumored use of drugs.

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 1999


TALLAHASSEE -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush won't answer the question. So on Tuesday, his brother faced it.

Gov. Jeb Bush was asked to comment on his brother's rumored past drug use, and he dodged reporters with an exasperated face and a three-word quip: "Ask my brother."

"He won't say anything," a reporter complained.

"That's my point," Jeb Bush said without explanation, then made a hasty exit.

For weeks, reporters have been pursuing rumors that presidential hopeful George W. Bush used cocaine when he was young. The rumors have not been substantiated.

The 53-year-old Texas governor first deflected the questions, saying he regrets "mistakes" he made in his youth. Then he said he could pass a White House background check that asked appointees whether they had used drugs for the past 15 years -- the standard that was in effect when his father was president. Later, he said he had not used drugs for the past 25 years.

When 46-year-old Jeb Bush first ran for Florida governor in 1994, he, too, was asked about past drug use. He quickly put the issue to rest, telling a reporter, "I admit it. I inhaled."

The revelation, which might have sunk a candidate 15 years ago, caused nary a political ripple in Florida.

Nor did Jeb Bush's admission that he considered filing for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Jeb Bush did eventually sign up for the draft, drawing a low draft lottery number and reporting for a physical exam. But, he said, the draft was halted before he was called.

George W. Bush has had to fend off questions about his Vietnam-era military record after allegations surfaced that he received special treatment to become a National Guard pilot in Texas.

"There is an exponential difference between running for governor and running for president of the United States," said Jim Kane, editor of a political journal, Florida Voter. "The scrutiny is so much greater for someone running for president."

National polls show that most voters don't care about youthful drug use in the 1960s and 1970s, Kane said. But George W. Bush's evasiveness about the question could hurt him politically, Kane said.

"He would have been better off saying, "Yep, I did it,' and moving on to something else," Kane said. "You can't give people a bit of information and not disclose everything. Once he said he had never committed adultery, he moved the line in terms of what was personal and what was public."

Both Bushes have made illegal drug use an issue in their campaigns. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush endorsed several anti-drug measures, including laws that toughened penalties for people convicted of possessing or selling less than a gram of cocaine.

Jeb Bush proposed a war on drugs for Florida and appointed a drug czar. The drug czar, James McDonough, has garnered headlines around the country for proposing to do laboratory testing on a controversial fungus that would kill off the state's illegal marijuana crop.

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