Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jeb Bush gets a free pass in Sunday New York Times … ALL the news that's fit to print? Whatever. … by gimleteye

Anyone familiar with the record of Jeb Bush's two terms as Florida governor will be rubbing their eyes at the recent NY Times profile depicting Bush as "an intellectual in search of new ideas, a serial consulter of outsiders who relishes animated debate and a probing manager who eagerly burrows into the bureaucratic details."

Bush could be a micromanager. But "an intellectual in search of new ideas"? Hardly. Bush was infamous for requiring adherence to preconceived ideas, like those developed by his conservative think tank, The Foundation For Florida's Future. "A serial consulter of outsider who relishes animated debate"? Debate requires two sides of an argument, and Bush rarely paid attention -- more frequently was dismissive than not -- of those who disagreed.

The depiction by the New York Times  may be the portrait Bush advisors want to paint for the public, but it doesn't resemble in the least the Jeb Bush who used Florida as a model for radical conservative experiments with not an inch of room for debate.

"Those who have hashed over policy and politics with Mr. Bush describe him as a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat’s quest to identify which solutions work best." Well no, New York Times. That is just wrong.

Instead of consulting with those who tried to change Jeb's mind, the Times relies on an author and a conservative think tank executive (from the American Enterprise Institute, no less) to polish Jeb's intellectual credentials. It's nonsense.

"The approach, aides said, suffused his government, which became a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs. They included assigning A through F grades to public schools, offering performance bonuses to government workers, privatizing many public services and, through billions of dollars in land purchases, locking in the conservation of the Everglades."

In rebuttal, let me offer this:
if Jeb's administration was "a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs" it took place within a wall of secrecy that few outsiders ever penetrated. Jeb was close minded as governor. Inclusive? Relishing debate?

In 2000, it took a phone call from his father to bring close to a protest by African American state legislators. Kendrick Meek and Tony Hill lead a 25 hour sit-in, in the governor's waiting room, because Jeb refused to even hear them out on important policy issues.

Jeb's policy programs were not "mostly" conservative, they were universally conservative and applied across a range of policy issues with a broad brush, helping pave the way for powerful campaign contributors who profited mightily from the housing boom -- kindled by Jeb's donor base -- and then the subsequent crash from which Florida has yet to emerge.

The alliances Jeb forged between big business insiders, like the Council of 100 in Florida run -- in those years -- by Al Hoffman (chairman of both Bush brothers' campaign finance committees) and the Florida Chamber of Commerce has rushed to the rescue of the flagging campaign of the current governor, embattled Rick Scott.

As to assigning A to F grades to public schools, that's a red herring for the Bush initiative assigning stifling curriculum standards across the state in a "one size fits all approach" that Republicans otherwise abhor. "Offering performance bonuses to government workers"? Compare that to the Bush inaugural speech in 2003 where he exulted in his promise to empty government buildings of workers. "Locking in the conservation of the Everglades"?

On that one, it is hard to know where to begin. But let's try with the example of the land purchase of Palm Beach Aggregates in West Palm Beach -- Jeb's first as governor-- that eventually landed three county commissioners in federal prison and even then was such an exorbitant expense (benefiting insiders) that it set a gross example of land pricing the state would have to bear for buying out other insiders in subsequent transactions. (for more background, read our archive on Palm Beach Aggregates)  Or how about the failed Scripps Institute that Jeb attempted to shoe-horn, also in Western Palm Beach County, around state environmental rules and regulations? Then, Ave Maria University on the other side of the Everglades, creating a massive urban footprint in Florida panther habitat. The list goes on.

The fact is that Jeb's concern for the Everglades was about water supply for the cities, and the outsourcing of water management district functions -- including the appointment of a key campaign supporter to run the counsel operations of the South Florida Water Management District -- assured massive politicization of water related issues on behalf of Jeb's pre-conceived notions.

If you really want to dive into one of those pre-conceived notions, turn to his Foundation for Florida's Future monograph from 1996, "The Next Step in Environmental Protection: A Move Toward Free-Market Environmentalism". There Denver Stutler touts the premise of wetlands mitigation banking. Instead of government regulation, private industry would "cooperate" to protect wetlands, and in doing so would provide a more effective public benefit than regulation.

A private firm called ECOBANK is singled out for praise. Stutler, an ECOBANK principal who would later become a trusted Bush aide in the Governor's Mansion and Florida Secretary of Transportation, wrote, "ECOBANK is an example of a coming trend in environmental protection that uses a new vision to evaluate and establish a logical approach in private mitigation banking… The strategy for effective private mitigation banking, like ECOBANK's, is to establish "megabucks" to support complete ecosystem restoration and maintenance, while allowing credits to be produced quickly and economically. These megabucks will be able to serve the needs of all customers for many years. Moreover, this market based approach using private investment will substantially increase both the pace of restoration of sensitive lands and the amount of land acquired for public benefit." He concluded: "Everyone from concerned citizens to active players, and most importantly our natural environment, will benefit from the new balanced mitigation approach."

By 2006, the Tampa Bay Times published its groundbreaking series by Craig Pittman, Vanishing Wetlands. The series included: "The 'Bad Apple' of wetlands banking: Held up to Congress as a shining example of the promise of wetland mitigation banking, their business went belly up." (December 18, 2006) The company that went bankrupt? ECOBANK.

"Jeb Bush Gives Party Something to Think About" gives discerning readers plenty to think about: namely, what is going on at The New York Times.

Jeb Bush Gives Party Something to Think About
New York Times

Former Gov. Jeb Bush signing a copy of “Immigration Wars,” a book he wrote with Clint Bolick, in Maryland last year. His reputation as the “deepest thinker on our side,” according to the strategist Karl Rove, has earned him support in the Republican establishment.

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush flew in Ivy League social scientists for daylong seminars with his staff and carved out time for immersive brainstorming sessions he called “think weeks.”

A voracious reader, he maintains a queue of 25 volumes on his Kindle (George Gilder’s “Knowledge and Power” among them, he said) and routinely sends fan mail to his favorite authors.

A self-described nerd, he is known to travel with policy journals and send all-hours inquiries to think tanks. (A sample Bush question: What are the top five ways to achieve 4 percent economic growth?)

As Mr. Bush, 61, weighs whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he is dogged by fears of voter exhaustion with a family name indelibly linked to his older brother, a self-assured Texan who prized instinct over expertise and once acknowledged a lack of interest in slogging through long books.

But in ways big and small, deliberate or subconscious, the younger Mr. Bush seems to have defined himself as the anti-George W. Bush: an intellectual in search of new ideas, a serial consulter of outsiders who relishes animated debate and a probing manager who eagerly burrows into the bureaucratic details.

Allies said that reputation — as what the Republican strategist Karl Rove called the “deepest thinker on our side” — could prove vital in selling Mr. Bush as a presidential candidate to an electorate still scarred by George W. Bush’s legacy of costly wars abroad and economic meltdown at home.

But the bookishness and pragmatism that strike mainstream Republican leaders as virtues highlight the potential difficulty that Mr. Bush may face in igniting the passions of more conservative members of the party.

The questions he grapples with most frequently, and enthusiastically, revolve around improving the effectiveness of government in areas like education, immigration and criminal justice. It is a message unlikely to electrify Tea Party and libertarian wings of his party that are openly hostile to the very idea of government.

“There is skepticism that maybe Jeb Bush wants too much government in people’s lives,” said Greg Mueller, a Republican strategist who has advised the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Bob Dole. “I don’t know that he will ever win over the limited-government conservatives.”

Mr. Bush, who has cast himself as a party reformer, seems unfazed by such critiques: At times, he has appeared to deliberately fan them by publicly castigating the leaders of his own party for adhering to failed tactics and outdated messages.

After Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat in 2012, in a presidential campaign that struggled to leaven its harsh tone with an optimistic vision for governing, Mr. Bush was unsparing, warning that the Republican brand risked becoming a millstone, “associated with being anti-everything.” Much of the electorate, he said, believes that “Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.”

Those who have hashed over policy and politics with Mr. Bush describe him as a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat’s quest to identify which solutions work best.

“He’s not interested in proving some sort of conservative point that less government is better, though he might believe that,” said Philip K. Howard, the author of influential books about law and government, who has spoken frequently with Mr. Bush. “In all of my dealings with him, he’s interested in how you make government deliver effectively. What are the incentives? How do you hold people accountable?” He added: “These are the discussions, frankly, that you want government leaders to have.”

Friends and former aides have variously described him as a “policy wonk,” an “ideas junkie” and, as Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called him, “a top-drawer intellect.”

It is a cerebral image that Mr. Bush readily and conspicuously embraces, inviting inevitable — and not always flattering — comparisons with his brother. (While George W. Bush, 67, left Yale with gentleman’s C’s after four years, Jeb Bush raced through the University of Texas in two and a half, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.) He insisted, for example, that his official portrait as governor contain a bookcase filled with his most beloved titles, among them “Cross Creek,” a memoir by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

These days, the younger Mr. Bush peppers his speeches with statistics, academic-sounding references to “quintiles” and self-deprecating jokes about his own geekiness. A few weeks ago, he boasted to a crowd of Republican donors that he was “nerdy enough” to read City Journal, an obscure policy magazine published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, then recited the names of his favorite writers at the publication.

Aubrey Jewett, who has studied Jeb Bush as a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida, said he “seems to go out of his way to make it clear that he’s different from his brother, by the way he talks about himself, his goals and the details of public policy.”

And how he governed. Under Mr. Bush, who served from 1999 to 2007, the Florida governor’s office at times resembled a mini-university. New employees showed up to find a copy of a treasured Bush book on their desks: “A Message to Garcia,” the inspirational 1899 essay about a United States soldier who journeyed to Cuba to win the alliance of a rebel leader.

He created a speakers series, inviting Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, and Virginia Postrel, a prominent cultural writer, to the Statehouse to speak to his cabinet. And he participated in an informal staff book club that churned through works of literary fiction, like Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” and sociological tracts, including Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.”

The approach, aides said, suffused his government, which became a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs. They included assigning A through F grades to public schools, offering performance bonuses to government workers, privatizing many public services and, through billions of dollars in land purchases, locking in the conservation of the Everglades.

“It was this culture of creativity and intellectual curiosity,” said Brian Yablonski, who ran Mr. Bush’s policy office and remains a confidant. “It permeated everything.”

Even Mr. Bush’s time off. Inspired by Bill Gates, he sent out a request to current and former staff members for bold new ideas, serious or whimsical, and took the resulting stack of proposals with him on vacation for “think week.” (One proposal: allowing Florida towns to buy and sell water on the open market, like electricity.)

Not everyone was impressed. Democratic-leaning outsiders groused that his administration had been co-opted by conservative think tanks, like the Hoover, Cato and Manhattan institutes, whose proposals Mr. Bush openly borrowed.

“I don’t think he had any ideas of his own,” said Robert E. Crew Jr., an associate dean at Florida State University who chronicled Mr. Bush’s governorship in a 2009 book, “Jeb Bush: Aggressive Conservatism in Florida.”

But there is little dispute over Mr. Bush’s firm command of government’s smallest details. He surprised aides by reading voluminous bills in their entirety and embarrassed ill-prepared advisers with his mastery of their projects.

Allison DeFoor, a top environmental adviser to Mr. Bush, recalled having to abruptly cut short his first briefing with the new governor, about the Everglades, amid a battery of questions that he was unable to answer. Aides called the ignominious session “Black Monday.”

“I have never been brought up that short in 40 years in government,” Mr. DeFoor said.

Just as daunting: keeping pace with Mr. Bush’s crowded and sober-minded reading list. “I read more than one book at a time these days,” he said in an email. “I think it is because it’s easy to download books on Kindle.”

Colleagues try their best. After she was repeatedly asked by Mr. Bush what she was reading, Toni Jennings, one of his lieutenant governors, scaled back her consumption of page-turning thrillers by James Patterson and Harlan Coben.

Instead, she reluctantly switched over to her boss’s brand of dense nonfiction.

“Sometimes,” she conceded, “it would take me a month to get through those books.”


Anonymous said...

Oligarchy and the NY Times has been writing PR puff stories about how great Miami is for years. The academics will save us and lead us to a better world. That garbage has been played out for years.

Anonymous said...

These PR people are ridiculous. It is mostly out and out lies.

It brings me to an important issue I have been thinking about. You guys need to prepare a book, a historical record, of various struggles in the community over the years. Not a lot of writing would be required as most of it has already been done. Just take the articles, organize them by subject matter and dates, leave out our comments, and bingo, we have an alternative historical record. It would not only remind us of the truth, but would be there for generations to come.

When PR liars like these come along, as they will over time, there will be another record of the truth of what really went down.

Anonymous said...

The reason Jeb had questions about education was because he was looking for an angle make a lot of money off of the education of children. The FCAT was the answer, and he would make money off of each child with his high stakes testing enterprise. A whole generation of children have been educationally crippled just so he could make money off of them.

Lyin in the bushes said...

Jeb Bush is a crook. He gave one Billion dollars of Florida Money to Enron. He gave one Billion Dollars to Lehman right before they both went under.Then he was placed on their board at a salary of $250.000 So much for our retirement. The Palm beach Aggregates deal 217 Million Dollars for a 1200 acre salt water pit. Everyone took a bribe on that one. Now the bastard bush and his cronies want One Billion Dollars for a 1200 acre pit at the Palm Beach Aggregates saying they can sell fresh water to Broward 75 miles away. The greasing of the palms went up. If anyone elects a bush to anything up to and including Dog Catcher they are idiots. Geotge Bush bankrupted America and Jeb bankrupted Florida. Everything tripled in price under these crooks.Our enviroment is in the toilet and Miami is ground zero but builders Like Jeb's Codina will keep on building without an ounce of regard for the outcome, they have their gadzillions and we get left holding the bag. Jeb and his brother both belong in prison,,,,,,,,,,,,

ShowMe, MO said...

Oligarchy. Corportacracy. I wonder
if those words will be taught in the scores of charter schools which Jeb Bush has guided to creation in Florida. Whether his interest is financial or he is using them as a way to achieve his deeply conservative agenda really is not important. What is clear is that the NYTimes has gone beyond the call in this effort to paint Mr. Bush as something is definitely is not: a committed and dedicated intellectual. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, his is a calculating and devious conservative capitalist trampling on the little guy while making him believe that he and his allies are
working in their interest; they could not care less about the little guy on either end of the political spectrum. The Bushes care more about the Saudi's than
about anyone in this country. With
Rove and Cheney as their mentors, we endured eight years of totalitarian government; we do not
need another such period under a third generation of red necks in suits. The nation and Florida hss been out maneuvered out its socks and we have become victims of the powerful. Even Obama could not figure out how to work with or outsmart them. As long as we accept
and permit their double dealing, we will continue to be disenfranchised, like subsidizing Big Sugar and then paying to clean up the Everglades from the runoff.
And we keep re-electing those who use us; they've got our number. And that of the venerable NYTimes too, apparently.

Anonymous said...

I am so weary of reading articles lifted from Jeb's PR team's drivel, and presented as actual news! The NYT should be above this lazy, lazy "Journalism"! For the record, let's clear this up (I am a Floridian lo these 25 yrs.): Jeb Bush is NOT a wildly popular ex-governor; he is loathed by a majority of Floridians who witnessed his trashing of the state. He had no clue how to create good policy or negotiate with the Legislature--they loathed him too. He had zero experience in public office prior to his mysterious "election" as governor. He is truly a cunning manipulator, armtwister and exploiter of his family name, which for some time now has been "Mudd". His many egregious crimes WILL be exposed if he is foolish enough to run for the GOP nomination. He will not carry FL if he is the nominee as there is no love lost for this pompous pretender!