Jeb Bush opens his forthcoming book with a simple declaration: “I loved being the governor of Florida.”
“It was my dream job, and that feeling never changed, not in eight years,” writes Bush, who led the state from 1999-2007. “Not through the hurricanes, budget debates, or even hanging chads.”
On Tuesday, Bush is releasing the first chapter of his eBook on a website containing a vast archive of emails from his time as governor — one that shows someone who got down in the weeds, constantly pestering staffers to “fup,” or follow up please, as much as he muscled through a sweeping conservative vision for the state.
“My staff estimated I spent 30 hours a week answering emails, either from my laptop or Blackberry, often while on the road,” Bush writes. “The idea of this book, through the use of these emails, is to tell the story of a life of a governor. No day is like the one before it… The unexpected became the expected.”
Bush has done everything but formally declare he is running for president in 2016. He is furiously raising money, has assembled a team of top political talent and is beginning to make public speeches across the country. What could possibly be left?
“I want to take the time to talk to as many people as possible,” Bush said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times Monday afternoon, well aware of his front-runner status now and how an official declaration would open him to even more scrutiny. “Look, it’s February. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Meantime there is his book, the title of which has not been released. It is designed to introduce him nationally and to reaffirm his conservative credentials at a time when Bush is viewed negatively by some on the right as moderate. At the same time Bush wants to convey a leadership style respectful of all voices, someone who thought the best ideas came from beyond Tallahassee.
“It’s a way to share for people who didn’t live in Florida or know what I was up to, what kind of leadership skills I have,” Bush said in an interview. The emails, he added, “allowed me to stay connected to Floridians of every persuasion.”
The first chapter covers his first year in office, from early emails from critics to missteps with the news media. On his first day Bush invited then-Senate President Toni Jennings and House Speaker John Thrasher to his office for a meeting. “It certainly seemed like the smart and right thing to do. But the media was furious they were not allowed ‘in’ and accused me of violating Florida’s open meetings Sunshine law,” Bush writes.
He included an email from Ron Sachs, a former aide to Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who wrote: “Don’t sweat the honest mistake on Day One,” and added “we screwed up regularly enough.” Bush thanked him for the advice and added, “I wonder if this email is a matter of public record??????????????????”
Bush was joking. He knew fully his email was public record and his team soon learned what not to put in writing.
But the scope of the email archive, which has already been made public by news organizations and the Democratic opposition-research group American Bridge, provides an illuminating view into Bush’s style and the many issues he had to confront. He was at turns demanding, thoughtful, humorous and prickly.
“When will I see the plan to upgrade our web page and how long will it take,” he asked top aides, skipping the question mark in line with a more informal approach to email. “I believe it should be the leader in the nation.”
One of the toughest issues he faced involved the saga involving Terri Schiavo, a Pinellas County woman whose husband wanted to remove her from life support. Bush was besieged with emails from people across the county demanding he intervene or stay out of a personal issue. He pressed hard and repeatedly to keep Schiavo alive, drawing praise and criticism he was overstepping his authority.
In the Monday interview, Bush stood by his actions. “We stayed within the law and it’s appropriate for people to err on the side of life. I’m completely comfortable with it and the emails are validation on how to do this respectfully. People that didn’t agree with me I treated with respect. People that agreed with me I did the same.”
Bush broke the news of the first book chapter and website containing the emails in a conference call with supporters Monday morning. He returns to Tallahassee on Tuesday for fundraising and an education summit for his Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Speaking of his campaign in waiting he said, “My life is totally focused on this.”
In a question and answer period with supporters, he addressed concern that he would take his strong advocacy of education reform to the White House. Critics of the Common Core education standards, which Bush supports, have decried a federal takeover, though the standards were created at the state level.
“Leadership isn’t always about a five-point plan,” he said on the call, saying the government could incentivise states to innovate. “But I’m excited about a political message that is more aspirational, that focuses on the kids that are being left behind that it may create whole new constituencies for the conservative cause.”
Frank Jimenez, an attorney who worked for Bush, asked about Hispanic outreach. Bush’s wife, Columba, is from Mexico and he can speak fluent Spanish.
“This is not just focused on Hispanics but in general, people do want to rise up,” Bush said. “And as conservatives if we offer them a compelling alternative to the failed policies of the left, we’re going to do a lot better. If we campaign amongst people that traditionally haven’t voted Republican, we’ll do a lot better. …We have these emerging demographic groups that, because our message was maybe too harsh or harsher voices were the ones that seemed to dominate, we’ve lost a little ground (with). But we can recover. The fact that I’m bilingual, bicultural can’t hurt.”
At the end of the call Bush was reminded about his birthday on Wednesday. “I’m in complete denial,” joked the soon-to-be 62 year old. “I don’t have birthdays anymore.”
Contact Alex Leary at email@example.com. Follow @learyreports.