Bushes again on same page


Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 10:58 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - When lawyers for President Bush's administration filed a brief arguing that the University of Michigan is violating the Constitution by using race as an admissions factor and ignores other ways to boost minority enrollment, it was a familiar argument in Florida.
The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, in one of his first and most audacious policy initiatives took on affirmative action - considering race when determining whether students get into college - back in 1999.
Gov. Bush argued there were better ways to help minority students overcome hurdles that have kept them from getting college educations.
The governor's "One Florida" plan not only eliminated race-based admissions, it tried to boost minority access with outreach programs in inner city high schools and by guaranteeing spots in state universities for the top 20 percent of all graduating high school seniors.
It may seem that President Bush, by stepping into the national debate over affirmative action, was borrowing from younger brother Gov. Bush and Florida, which have provided one of the few laboratory examples of what happens when affirmative action in admissions is tossed aside.
Advisers to Florida's Bush say it's no surprise that the brothers would share solutions to public problems, but they say it's more because they're both conservatives who have run big states, not because they're family.
"These are generally Republican ideas," said Justin Sayfie, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who, as a former communications director for Gov. Bush helped the governor craft the "One Florida" plan. "There are not many Republicans that support racial preferences and quotas."
Supporters of Gov. Bush say enrollment figures show diversity remains intact at the state's universities, proving you don't need set-asides to provide minorities with access to education.
But Gov. Bush borrowed part of his plan from Texas, where President Bush used to be governor. It was just one of many examples, analysts and advisers to the governor say, where the Texas, Florida and the federal governments have fed off each other's initiatives over the last decade.
Just as lawyers for his brother did the same day, Florida's Bush filed a brief Thursday in the Michigan case, seeking to tell the Supreme Court that race-neutral admissions can work.
On that same day, President Bush was in Pennsylvania, renewing a proposal to stem growing medical malpractice insurance rates by capping non-economic damages in such cases at $250,000. The president pushed for a similar cap last year; the House agreed, but the Senate didn't. In Florida, Gov. Bush is touting the same cap as the solution to the same problem.
Sayfie cites an even better example of Florida serving as a state laboratory for policy that President Bush's administration has molded into a national proposal: Gov. Bush's education policies, known collectively as the "A-Plus" plan.
The program includes the use of tests to grade how well schools are doing. The ones that don't fare well can be targeted for help. The ones that do better are rewarded. And students mired in the worst schools can get a voucher to go to a private school.
"The 'No Child Left Behind' legislation that President Bush proposed in Congress, a lot of people said it was almost the federalization of the governor's 'A-Plus' plan," Sayfie said.
Gov. Bush has said he does talk to the president from time to time. But, he says, they don't talk policy much, if at all, preferring instead to steer their conversations toward their families and football.
Cory Tilley, one of Gov. Bush's longest-serving advisers, said that in the last decade several major national policy initiatives have gotten their start in states with Republican leaders.
"You're going to see a lot of conservative governors around the country share ideas," said Tilley, a former communications director for the governor and now a public relations consultant in Tallahassee.
Texas and Florida may share ideas, but they both borrow many of them from other states, Tilley said. Florida's Bush frequently cited California's "Three Strikes" law in pushing Florida's similar legislation.
In pushing for caps on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, Florida's Bush frequently cites California's ceilings, in effect since the 1970s, as a reason he thinks they'd work. California has lower malpractice rates.
Georgia, Texas, Washington and West Virginia are also considering limiting damages at $250,000.

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