Bush set to tackle new term

Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 9:24 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Shortly before noon on Tuesday when he is sworn in as governor, John Ellis Bush will accomplish a feat shared by no other in Florida's 157-year history.
Jeb Bush will become the first Republican to ever serve as governor for more than four years.
But this may just be a historical footnote by the time he leaves office in 2007.
Instead, as Bush begins a second term he seems poised to possibly make his mark as Florida's most powerful governor ever.
After a first term that saw him push changes in education, a massive Everglades restoration plan, as well as an end to many affirmative action programs, Bush now plans to meet a new set of daunting challenges.
Unlike four years ago when Bush came into office with a specific set of initiatives - including the "A-plus" education plan that led to the grading of schools - the 49-year-old governor has a bolder, if still somewhat vague, agenda for his second term.
Bush has vowed to improve the reading skills of Florida's children, diversify the state's economy away from its heavy reliance on service sector jobs and to strengthen Florida's families.
"This is not a time to coast, this is not a time to rest on laurels," said Bush last week.
Bush has also promised to tackle other vexing issues, such as revamping Florida's growth management laws and figuring how to conserve the state's dwindling water supplies. He also must confront mounting problems in the health care industry and the state's beleaguered child welfare agency that says it needs a half-billion dollars in the coming year.
The governor must also grapple with a looming state budget shortfall while also figuring out how to pay for recently enacted constitutional amendments such as the amendment that limits public school class sizes.
Yet Bush has advantages that previous governors never had. He has more power thanks to constitutional changes that reduced the size of Florida's Cabinet and placed the Department of Education under the governor's control. Republicans control the Legislature so completely that there is little that Democrats could do to stop Bush and his GOP allies.
"He's the most powerful governor in Florida history for good or for ill," said Florida State University political science professor Lance deHaven-Smith.
Off and running The governor has wasted little time between his triumph on Election Day when he trounced Democratic challenger Bill McBride and his upcoming inauguration. He assembled a transition team to review agency operations and recommend changes.
That process has led to several top Bush aides and agency heads leaving their jobs, including those in charge of the state's prisons, the Lottery department, business regulation as well as the departments that monitor growth management laws and state government operations. Bush has yet to name successors to four of these five agencies.
Bush named Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood as the next secretary of state and has said he will ask lawmakers this spring to fold in the functions of the Department of Community Affairs into that department.
The governor paused only briefly between his re-election and his inauguration, taking a three-day cruise just after Christmas with his family.
His other respite from work will come with a three-day inauguration celebration that will run from today until Tuesday. Bush's father - former President George Bush - and mother are expected to attend Bush's swearing in. His older brother, President George W. Bush, will remain at work in Washington, D.C.
The inaugural festivities - which are estimated to cost more than $1 million paid by private donors - will kick off today in Miami with a barbecue that will feature some 6,000 hot dogs and hamburgers. The "black tie and blue jeans" inaugural ball will be held Monday night at a pavilion erected on the intramural fields of FSU in Tallahassee and will feature the rock band Blues Traveler.
Following the actual inauguration on the steps of the Old Capitol, there will be a street carnival on the road that runs from the Capitol to the governor's mansion. Bush and his wife, Columba, are also planning to hold an open house at the mansion.
Balancing the budget But shortly after the music and the dancing stops, Bush will be back at work.
"I'm ready to roll, I'm ready to go," Bush said.
The first challenge for Bush in his second term comes in the next two weeks when he is legally required to present his annual budget recommendations to the Florida Legislature. Bush must recommend a budget covering state spending from July 1 to June 30, 2004.
So far Bush has given few hints about what he plans to recommend. He will push for money for training teachers on how to teach reading as well as money for his campaign proposal to boost the number of nationally certified teachers who can qualify for salary bonuses.
Bush, however, has said that despite a shortfall that could range anywhere from $2 billion to $3 billion, he will not recommend any tax increases in the coming year. The governor has also pledged to fight any move to delay a planned cut in the state's intangibles tax, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2004.
That may mean Bush will be forced to recommend deep cuts in spending on health care and other areas of the budget in order to balance the budget.
Cautious about future Bush in recent weeks has acknowledged the state will have a "tight budget year" but his inauguration speech on Tuesday will focus more broadly on his vision for the next four years as well as his initiatives in reading and strengthening families.
"Inaugurals aren't a time for five point plans," said Bush, who said he plans on Tuesday to explain "his core beliefs about the role of government and individual freedom and liberty."
To many observers, Bush's agenda for the next four years appears tailor-made for a future run for the U.S. presidency with its emphasis on education, the economy and families. But during the waning days of his re-election campaign, Bush kept repeating to reporters that it was "probably" the last one of his political career.
Some Democrats are fearful that if this is Bush's last stint in elected office that he will pursue an even more conservative agenda than the one he pushed during his first four years in office. Bush is opposed to abortion and in recent months has appointed several conservative figures - including former U.S. Rep. Charles Canady and former state Rep. Paul Hawkes - as judges.
"If it's his last campaign, anything could happen," said Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach. "He could get a lot more conservative. But if he's thinking about keeping his options open, he may just have to stay on the same track he's been."
Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, while promising a more cordial relationship than offered by prior Senate leaders, maintained that Bush will be unsuccessful in the Legislature if he does in fact push a conservative agenda.
Some of Bush's staunchest allies, however, hope that the governor is in fact putting together a record and legacy to make U.S. history as the first brother of a president to win election to the nation's highest office.
"I'd love to see him do something like that," said former House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, a close friend of Bush. "He's too good to quit."

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