Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush hopes to turn around presidential campaign with help of new email book

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in Winter Park, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in Winter Park, Fla. AP

Jeb Bush has found it difficult to translate his accomplishments as Florida governor into success on the presidential campaign trail. Now he’s hoping his old emails will help do it for him.

His new book, Reply All, released Monday, covers Bush’s eight years in Tallahassee through the electronic correspondence the Republican governor exchanged with staff, friends and constituents over matters large (the death penalty) and small (the short-lived proposal for a state commissioner of barbecue).

Bush’s campaign hopes the book, planned nearly a year ago, will show off the workaholic politician they remember, the one who freely gave out his email address, jeb@jeb.org (he still does), and then hop on his laptop — and later his BlackBerry — at all hours to respond, revealing his dedication, emotions and sense of humor.

“I was about to fall in love for the second time in my life,” Bush writes in the book referring to the BlackBerry, which he learned about around Sept. 1, 2001. He would eventually include the device in his official gubernatorial portrait.

Bush was ahead of his time in terms of technology, pushing the state from the get-go to put services and documents online and taking the unusual step of responding directly to about a third of the 300 or so emails he received daily, by his estimation. That contrasts sharply with Democrat Hillary Clinton, who in one memorable email as U.S. secretary of state asked for assistance with working a fax machine.

“I was digital before digital was cool. Now it’s commonplace,” Bush said when he announced the e-book in December. (It’s also available in print.)

That was before Bush was even a candidate — and long before his campaign started to sputter.

What was innovative during Bush’s time as governor seems nostalgic now. And that’s precisely where Bush, 62, has struggled as a presidential candidate: turning his executive state experience into a compelling presidential sales pitch.

His job has been made harder by his hometown rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who at 44 casts himself as the candidate of tomorrow — and who bested Bush at a GOP primary debate last week.

None of that tension made it into Bush’s book, however. Rubio comes up three times — including in what Bush called a “random note to a couple of staffers” on Oct. 3, 2005: “I need to get a sword for marco.”

I need to get a sword for marco.

Jeb Bush email to staff, Oct. 3, 2005

Rubio had been designated incoming speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and Bush had presented him with a sword to “unleash a mythical power for conservative causes.” The sword belonged to Bush, and the gift was ceremonial — but the governor later wanted one to actually give to Rubio. Rubio confessed earlier this year that the sword was now “somewhere” in his West Miami home.

In another exchange, Bush writes to Rubio’s legislative email address on Aug. 25, 2006 — only to get the kind of automated response that Bush purposely avoided: “As you can imagine, my district office receives significant amounts of emails on a daily basis, due to the high volume and because I personally respond to as many emails as possible, your response may take a minimum of one week.”

Bush replies to Rubio with faux indignation: “Auto response!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Rubio himself writes back the next day: “Even the most innovative among us need time to make dramatic changes like getting rid of the auto response!”

(Rubio’s third appearance in the book is made in passing, as someone Bush thought could help him promote his 2005 education legislation, which ultimately failed.)

Bush’s book makes a single mention of Clinton, as one of the U.S. senators (along with Barack Obama) who supported a 2005 law allowing the family of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, to seek federal court review for her case.

The Schiavo saga is one of several key moments Bush delves into at some length in the book, which covers a lot of ground but little in depth in its generously spaced 730 pages. The hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. The case of Elián González. The 2000 recount.

And then there’s assorted email fodder. In one, from 2002, Bush pledges to look into unisex family bathrooms at I-75 rest stops, which Frank and Ruth Montelione found morally objectionable. In another, from 2002, Bush tells 13-year-old Jennifer from Bradenton that he’ll buy four boxes of Girl Scouts cookies from her.

He trades emails with singer Jimmy Buffett in 1999 about protecting manatees. Three years later, Bush gets roped into helping producers of the film Bad Boys II shoot a boat-chase scene in Miami without running afoul of manatee-protection laws.

There were angry emails. (“STICK IT UP YOUR FAT ASS,” an anonymous correspondent upset by Bush’s “christian value ideas of sex education” wrote him in 1999. “Have a wonderful restful day,” Bush replied. “You appear to need it.”) There were deeply personal ones. (“I cried reading your email,” Bush wrote to teacher Alleen Miller in 2002.) There was the Department of Veterans Affairs asking Bush in 1999 if he’d jump out of a plane for a World War II fundraiser. (“Nope. no way. no.”)

Bush doesn’t dwell on personal turmoil, only briefly mentioning a 1999 incident (“a mistake”) in which his wife, Columba, failed to declare $19,000 in European purchases upon landing at the Atlanta airport (she paid a $4,100 penalty; the $19,000 total is not mentioned in the book). In the chapter covering 2002, he notes his daughter Noelle’s struggle with prescription-drug abuse, without going into details.

He regrets allowing a 2001 bill requiring single women to make public that they gave up their babies for adoption to become law. He defends pouring hundreds of millions of public dollars into the Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County.

And he expresses remorse about telling his staff in 2000 to “kick their asses out,” referring to reporters who covered a sit-in by two lawmakers at the governor’s office over Bush’s plan to do away with affirmative action.

“I should not have spoken that way,” Bush writes.

Many of the emails in Bush’s book are with reporters. “I don’t view any media outlets as unhealthy,” the governor wrote Eric Deggans, then-media critic for the Tampa Bay Times (formerly St. Petersburg Times) in 2005, striking a much different note from some of his presidential rivals who consistently complain about perceived liberal bias.

“Even when I pretend otherwise,” Bush admits, “I love mixing it up with the press.”

McClatchy correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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