The interloper

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 9:56 p.m.
It's important to keep in mind that Gov. Jeb Bush isn't from around here. His roots in Florida run about as deep as the thin layer of topsoil that covers the coral-incrusted hardpan of the southern tip of the state.
Bush relocated to Miami from Texas in 1980. He played developer for a time - scraping away the topsoil and blasting through the coral - while he assembled the necessary political infrastructure from which to launch the true family business: dynasty-building.
And Florida, a transient state, was the perfect launching pad in that regard. Roots don't matter all that much in a state where most voters come from somewhere else.
All of which may help to explain why Bush has so little appreciation for where Florida's been. He's all about the future - as in today the governor's mansion, tomorrow the U.S. Senate, and maybe one day the White House.
That's what makes Bush different from the pioneers who settled Florida and turned it into a state. They mostly came from somewhere else, too.
But they cared enough about legacy-building that Florida's founders started a state library and archive in 1845 - a repository from which future generations could learn about the rich history of this place that Governor Bush ironically refers to on his web site as "My Florida."
In truth, Bush doesn't care a fig about what happened in Florida before he showed up. Sensing an opportunity to save a few bucks, Bush now proposes to dismantle the state library and archive, housed in the Florida Museum of History across the street from the Florida Supreme Court building.
Under the governor's disorganization plan, the library's rare book and documents collection will be dispersed to a variety of locations - Florida State University, the Department of Management Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, and, for all we know, perhaps even the supply closets of the public comfort stations scattered up and down the interstate.
In a state that prides itself on its public records legacy, Bush's record-scattering plan would throw some formidable roadblocks in the way of historians, researchers, journalists, or just curious Floridians as they attempt to even locate - much less read - Florida's historical record.
Oh, by the way, Florida State doesn't want to inherit the state library's books and records. No fools, the FSU officials have already figured out that the governor wants them to take the responsibility for stewardship without any accompanying funding.
And this on top of massive budget cuts already planned for FSU and its sister universities. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Eliminated in this proposed disintegration of the state's collective memory would be 55 library employees. Total savings to the Bush administration? About $5.4 million a year.
If $5.4 million sounds like small change in the context of the $54 billion budget, it is. Why, the special interests that bankrolled the governor's re-election campaign wouldn't even consider $5.4 million a decent tax break.
Appalling is the word we're grasping for here. Carl Van Ness, University of Florida archivist, is even less polite, calling it "insane."
He told a reporter the other day, "I've just never heard of a state abolishing its state library."
FSU political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith, who has written extensively about the history of Florida government and politics, is no more charitable toward's Bush's penny-pinching scheme. "In a state that has a fragmented sense of itself, scattering its memory in this way may make that even worse. It definitely won't make it better."
We can't really expect our interloper governor to care very much about the integrity of Florida's historical record. He's only been here since 1980, and so there is comparatively little about his "legacy" amassed in the library's R.A. Gray Building (named, incidentally, after a pre-Bush era Floridian who served as Secretary of State for 30 years).
But members of the Florida Legislature - at least those who don't view Tallahassee as merely a way stop en route to Washington, D.C. - ought to care very much about preserving Florida's past. Abolishing the state library is a silly, drop-in-the-bucket reaction to a budget crises that Gov. Bush helped manufacture.
Then again, perhaps that's why Bush wants to break up the archives - so future Floridians won't learn the truth about his "legacy."

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