A huge day for one 'policy nerd'


Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 2:19 a.m.
Tallahassee - You knew it was going to be among the more surreal press conferences of Gov. Jeb Bush's six years in office when he arrived in his conference room without a suit and tie. Usually, Bush has the sartorial range of an elderly banker. Yet there he was on Wednesday at a hastily called meeting with reporters, wearing a gray, long-sleeved guayabera shirt with thin stripes, buttons on the shoulders and pockets below his beltline.
The topic of the meeting was unknown. Speculation centered on a personnel change or a budget announcement.
No. Bush had called reporters to brag about a ''ratings upgrade by Moody's Investors Service'' from Aa2 to Aa1.
''For a policy nerd,'' Bush said, almost giggling. ''This is a huge day.''
Beaming, Bush told reporters that the upgrade justified past decisions to cut taxes and spending.
''I know that annoys liberals,'' said Bush. ''So what?''
The upgrade means, among other things, that the state will save .05 percent on the interest paid on bonds the state issues. That means eventual savings of millions of dollars.
Bush knew his audience, surveying the glazed eyes of reporters and saying, ''You can tell they're excited.''
What did excite reporters was the selling on eBay of a Bush-autographed business card that was being hawked for $19.99. An earlier offering had gone for more than $100, according to a blog site.
Asked what he thought of that, Bush autographed two cards and gave them to a reporter from his hometown paper in Miami. He then joked about flooding the market and diminishing their value.
The unusual press conference ended in what has become a standard ending: An exchange about Bush running for president in 2008. Bush has repeatedly said he hates the question and is not running in 2008.
Reporter, inquiring about the governor's trip to his brother's inauguration next week: ''Are you looking forward to questions about you running for president?''
Bush: ''Are there any other questions?''
Seat belt law Senate President Tom Lee says he won't support a bill that would strengthen the state's seat belt law. But the Senate leader doesn't plan to use the power of his office to stop it either.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, is trying again this year to get the state to change its seat belt law to allow police officers to stop drivers if they aren't buckled up. Since joining the Legislature in 2000, Slosberg has tried to pass the bill, following the death of his 14-year-old daughter in a 1996 car accident.
If approved, Florida would join 21 other states that allow primary enforcement of the seat belt law. And Slosberg says it would save more than 260 lives a year.
Lee, a Brandon Republican, doesn't dispute Slosberg's sincerity, but he and House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, share the belief that it may be an issue where the government is intruding too far in the everyday lives of Floridians.
''I believe we have socialized so many of our problems in this country to the point where we now have an interest in how everyone lives their life,'' Lee said. ''I don't need government to protect me from myself.''
Lee says he understands the concern over rising car insurance costs and medical costs that have been linked to the failure to use seat belts.
But the bottom line for Lee is that the use of a seat belt, for an adult, should be a personal decision rather than a government mandate. It's different, he says, than speeding laws where the government regulations play a legitimate role in ''protecting you from me.''
Lee acknowledged that his view on seat belts is ''a little bit libertarian.'' As for his own use of seat belts, Lee said: ''I'm a frequent wearer of seat belts, but I'm sporadic.''
Last year, the House approved Slosberg's seat belt bill. But it died in the Senate, where opposition solidified after Slosberg personally criticized Senate leaders for their resistance to passing the bill.
Gov. Jeb Bush, who supports the legislation, said he believes Slosberg may have a better shot in the Senate this year if he tones down his rhetoric.
Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sun Tallahassee Bureau.

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