Jeb Bush’s Emails as Governor of Florida Show His Agenda and Goals. http://tiny.iavian.net/3q0c
By JONATHAN MARTIN
December 24, 2014
WASHINGTON — One month before Jeb Bush was sworn in as governor of Florida, he was already musing about bold plans to reduce the size of the state government.
“One of our goals should be to have fewer government employees each year we are serving,” Mr. Bush wrote to two aides in an email in December 1998. “We need a baseline from which to start. Labor has huge potential to be reduced, possibly in half.”
The Saturday after he was inaugurated, Mr. Bush forwarded that message to another aide and asked, “Can you make this happen?”
Mr. Bush — who announced this month that he was “actively exploring” a presidential bid — left office in 2007 after two terms. In those eight years, the state government in Tallahassee had been transformed by his hard-charging and driven style.
And while he did not slash the number of state employees by half, he did privatize thousands of public jobs. The email forecasting that move is one of hundreds of thousands from two accounts — one a government address, the other personal — sent during his time in office and obtained by The New York Times through a public records request.
The messages illustrate, hour by hour, the business of governing what was then the country’s fourth most populous state. Often, Mr. Bush is simply an electronic traffic cop: replying, forwarding and copying a barrage of pleas for jobs and appointments, visits and routine complaints by Florida residents.
But they also showcase Mr. Bush’s aggressive, and personal, approach in carrying out a conservative agenda in a state that, like others in the South, had been dominated by Democrats for generations.
He was the first Republican governor in Florida since Reconstruction to enjoy a Republican-controlled Legislature, and Mr. Bush used his party’s newfound strength to cut taxes, carry out sweeping changes in education policy, eliminate Civil Service protections for state employees and outsource some functions of state government.
He was fixated on “big, hairy, audacious goals” — “BHAGs,” as he liked to say — and could be blunt on what they were and how they could be achieved.
In an email to a friend who was close to a teachers’ union leader about his effort to institute higher-education standards, Mr. Bush instructed his friend to tell the union leader “that a reformed system will be a better one for dedicated teachers.”
“I believe they know this, but they also know that it won’t be so good for the bottom third of teachers that U.T.D. spends most of its resources defending,” Mr. Bush said in March 1999, referring to the union, the United Teachers of Dade.
Mr. Bush sought this month to get ahead of the anticipated public records requests, and perhaps score some political points, by announcing in an interview with a Miami television station that he would voluntarily post about 250,000 emails on his own website.
“Part of serving or running, both of them, is transparency, to be totally transparent,” Mr. Bush said.
But Florida’s public information laws are among the most open in the country, and Mr. Bush knew the messages would be open to public scrutiny whether he posted them on the website or not. The emails he releases are likely to include only those publicly accessible under state law, meaning that messages regarding legal and personnel matters will not be available.
Mr. Bush seemed to have been mindful of that eventuality while he was in office and was careful with his language. But he did occasionally offer insight into the way he views the world. Responding to a constituent in October 2000 who wrote him about a motorcycle helmet law, Mr. Bush offered a glimpse of his conservative philosophy in explaining why he opposed the measure, saying he did not want to “overextend governments role in our daily lives.”
“Think about how many times we could use government to decide what is and is not healthy or good for us — I am not sure that is the state we want to live in,” he wrote.
He was less of a hard-liner, though, when a gay Floridian hoping to win a job in Mr. Bush’s administration gently asked if his sexual orientation would present a problem.
“On the other stuff, don’t ask, don’t tell is fine with me,” Mr. Bush responded, appropriating the terminology President Bill Clinton used regarding gays in the military. “What you do in your private life is your business. If it crosses over into the public policy realm, then that is another matter. If you are comfortable with that, then we can proceed.”
Mr. Bush’s willingness to engage his correspondents even extended to what may be considered hate mail. When one of them accused him of acting like a Nazi, the governor responded: “Chill out, John. Do you really believe my rhetoric is fascist and Nazi like? Take a deep breathe and relax.”
Mr. Bush’s love of email has long been well known among political professionals. He is famously accessible to friends, donors, constituents and reporters via email, and during his time as governor was quick to adopt what was then the cutting edge of wireless technology: the BlackBerry.
The device became so central to his image as a details-obsessed executive engrossed in a range of policy minutiae, a BlackBerry, sitting in its charging station, is in the background of his official state portrait.
The BlackBerry allowed him to be in touch whenever he was traveling and to set the parameters of those electronic conversations.
His awareness of what should and should not be included in the emails is on display during the 2000 presidential election and the contentious Florida recount that followed. Mr. Bush fielded hundreds of emails about the election, but there appear to be no messages to his brother George W. Bush or his father from those public accounts.
With the recount underway, though, Mr. Bush did express his anger at what he saw as Democratic attempts to stop his brother from carrying Florida and winning the election.
“I am sickened by the ‘second campaign’ now being waged,” he wrote to a constituent in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “It degrades our great state and more importantly, does threaten our democracy.”
For all the incoming messages he received, Mr. Bush still expressed occasional wonder about the personal interaction.
After receiving a message from a self-described “51-year-old white male” who worked for the State Department of Corrections and who said he had been discriminated against “many times,” the governor forwarded the note to aides with a note of his own.
“The age of direct communication has allowed people to give their opinion to whomever they like,” he said, “and by God, they do it.”
Steve Kenny, Robert Pear and Derek Willis contributed reporting.