When I was elected governor of Mississippi in 2003, Jeb Bush was into his second term as governor of Florida. He had established himself as the leading conservative large-state governor through major tax cuts, eight consecutive balanced budgets, effective education reform and a fast-growing economy.
Bush’s new book, Reply All, is not a typical political memoir, as most of the story is conveyed by publishing email traffic between the author and his constituents. It is ironic that Bush develops an interesting historical narrative by sharing with the public emails, unedited for content, that he received as governor and his responses; while at the same time Secretary Clinton is deeply embroiled in a months-long effort to keep her emails secret.
Bush was prolific in using email to stay in touch with Floridians — from elected leaders to everyday citizens. And the subject matter in Reply All is as diverse as the population of America’s third-largest state.
While the format is unique as far as I know, it not only holds together, it gives a vivid portrait of a governor’s actions and schedule.
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Much of the story exposes readers to the big policy reforms Bush pursued as a cutting-edge conservative reformer, from tort reform to cutting taxes to education reform designed to raise standards, promote school choice and achieve better results for students. Governors should be judged by the results they get for their students as opposed to simply how much money they spend, and Bush passes that test with flying colors.
Having been governor of the state that in 2005 bore the brunt of the worst natural disaster in American history, I found the section on the four hurricanes that slammed Florida in 2004 potent.
Bush’s correspondence with his citizens demonstrates the strength and character of his constituents, who stood up to one major storm after another’s crashing into Florida. Every single one of those hurricanes ranks among the fifteen worst that had ever come ashore in our country, yet they all hit his state in a matter of six short weeks.
The people of Florida — more than 200,000 had their homes damaged or destroyed — never lost civil order, went to work helping each other and dedicated themselves to rebuilding their communities. While Bush’s emails reveal dissatisfaction with the federal response among constituents, the leadership he provided at the state level was rightly praised.
In Mississippi, our first responders were so impressed by Florida’s response efforts, we sent groups from our teams to study and train with their counterparts in Florida.
The next year, as Katrina obliterated the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the southern half of our state, not only did that training in Florida prove invaluable, but Bush and his emergency managers sent thousands of the Sunshine State’s first responders to help in our search and rescue as well as our recovery. Some arrived on the day of landfall.
The book is a story of Florida’s resilience in defying that string of hurricanes, and the growth of a state that benefited from the leadership of a strong, conservative reformer with a true commitment to public service.
Haley Barbour served as governor of Mississippi from 2004 to 2012.