Consider that Florida doesn't have the fiscal luxury of a state income tax. Now realize the impact that 9/11 had on the state's No. 1 industry, tourism, and its ability to generate state revenue through sales and other taxes.
Now imagine meeting the diverse needs of a huge state with a large senior population and a multitude of urban areas, which bring with them many of the social and other problems attendant to tough life in the city.
Somehow through all this, Jeb Bush has managed to steer his state through rocky financial times, instilling a confidence that Florida can face up to virtually any challenge.
Bush accomplished this in part by embracing the Reagan economic philosophy. Florida eliminated some $6 billion dollars in taxes on businesses and those who invest in the state's economy. The result is a rebounding jobs market that is back to pre-9/11 levels, and boosted by a continuing expansion in economic sectors like construction and development. In fact, Wall Street has just upgraded Florida's credit rating for the first time in 30 years.
Second, Gov. Bush deep-sixed the good-ole-boy system of state government, a relic of Florida's old days of system-abusing, "hail-fellow-well-met" Democrats. He passed legislation that transformed Florida's civil service system into one that is merit-based, not tenure-controlled. Many positions in state government that were once private political fiefdoms are now accountable to the state's chief executive. That includes Florida's head of public education, once elected, now appointed by the governor. Bush even dispensed with the Board of Regents -- almost universally a private little kingdom with too many kings -- instead of allowing state universities to continue serving as their own governing bodies.
And speaking of education: Bush has spearheaded the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT), which has set real standards for public schools. The governor has held those schools accountable for their test results. It was controversial with the state's teachers union, but it has proven the catalyst for real improvement in public schools.
Now throw this in the mix: While some Republican leaders talk about privatization of government services, Bush has set in motion a whirlwind series of initiatives to privatize everything from prisons to mental health facilities. Jeb Bush is a true conservative with a progressive bent.
All of the above said, it now looks like Bush wants his name taken out of consideration for the presidency in 2008. But just as the concept of Newt making a big comeback isn't so far-fetched, a Jeb Bush run makes equally good sense. In the end, both men must make their own decisions. But it's great to see the GOP with leaders who are bright, widely known and able to turn rhetoric into government policy -- leaders capable of, well, leading.
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