Campaign kickoff

Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 8, 2003 at 9:43 p.m.
If there were any doubt that Gov. Jeb Bush has his sights set on the White House or the U.S. Senate, they were erased on Tuesday. That's when Bush used the occasion of his second inauguration to make his campaign kickoff speech.
Forget Florida's looming deficit of $2 billion or more. Forget the constitutional mandates for smaller class sizes, pre-kindergarten programs, the bullet train and other big-ticket items. There was virtually no talk about what the governor's agenda for Florida in the next four years will look like.
Instead, Bush stuck to the standard political comfort rhetoric; family values, personal responsibility and, of course, smaller government. Indeed, Bush spoke wistfully of the day when Tallahassee's state office buildings would be left virtually empty, "silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill."
But don't hold your breath for that much-anticipated day to arrive. We're talking about a governor who, after all, rode to an easy re-election victory on the strength of millions of dollars contributed by various special interests groups - most of whom expect something from government by way of payoff. And very few of the big Bush donors figure to replace government as the stop of last resort for the young, the disabled, the poor and other needy Floridians so who desperately require assistance just to survive.
Still, Bush's anti-government rhetoric crossed the line from standard political claptrap to a sheer hypocrisy when he dryly calculated the "mathematics of tragedy," - the number of children in Florida born in single-parent homes, or who are subject to abuse and neglect or without child support or in state custody - and then added piously:
"In the past our response has been to raise more taxes, grow more government and embrace the thin fiction that if only we can hire one more social worker or complete one more form then we can somehow reverse these corrosive trends and salvage lives."'
This from a governor who has cut taxes for the wealthy, not raised them for the benefit of the children.
But Bush was right in one respect. It's time to get past the "thin fiction" that "one more social worker" will somehow make a difference to Florida's children at risk.
We're talking about a state that has simply lost track of hundreds of children supposedly under its supervision. We're talking about a state agency that has a 30,000-case backlog of child abuse or neglect cases to investigate. An agency that takes as long as 15 months to close some cases because its employees labor under staggering caseloads.
No, Gov. Bush, one more social worker decidedly will not do it. Hundreds, maybe. Or better yet, even thousands.
But this administration which has showered billions in tax breaks on those who don't need them - has no intention of giving the Department of Children and Families the resources it needs to adequately protect Florida's children-at-risk. Instead, Bush clings to his own "thin fiction," that somehow through the preaching of family values and the virtues of smaller government and more privatization and more help from "faith-based" organizations, Florida's problems will one day vanish - presumably along with thousands of no-longer-necessary state employees.
But then, Bush's inauguration speech was not to be taken seriously. It was simply intended to be the unofficial kickoff of his campaign for ever higher office. Bush's policy initiatives will become clear enough in the coming weeks and months, when he begins to slash away at state budgets while continuing to hand out tax breaks like party favors.
And no one can blame him for not wanting to talk about that on the day one of his new campaign.

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