Former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced his intention to create a presidential exploratory committee this week. While many are focusing on his relation to his brother, former President George W. Bush, the association with one of America's most unpopular presidents isn't all that could hurt him.
Jeb Bush has been responsible for enacting some of the far-right's most toxic policies, from the nation's first Stand Your Ground law to a path of education privatization that Bush has continued even after he has left office. Here are the five big ones.
1. Signed First “Stand Your Ground” Bill Into Law: The tragic Trayvon Martin killing spurred renewed criticism of “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it easy for citizens to justify using lethal force. Bush signed into law the first of these bills, making Florida a pioneer state in their use. “This law is about affirming that your home is your castle and, in Florida, you have a right to be absolutely safe inside its walls,” said the then-president of the National Rifle Association, thanking Gov. Bush for signing it. Sadly, the law has applied to a lot more than just home invasions; “justifiable homicide” tripled in Florida after the passage of the law, and similar laws were in 30 states by 2012.
2. Spearheaded Efforts to Privatize Education: Bush wanted to make a name for himself as the “education governor,” but the policies he ended up pursuing produced results that were “mixed as best,” as the Washington Post notes. The governor enacted the state's first statewide voucher program, but it ended up being struck down as unconstitutional by Florida's supreme court. He also enacted high-stakes testing, coupled with a system to grade and sanction Florida schools that did not meet standards. While these policies pleased conservatives on paper, they didn't net much in results, with some modest test score improvements but a “high school dropout rate and per-pupil spending [ranking] among the nation's worst.” Nonetheless, Jeb Bush touted himself as an education expert after leaving office, running an education foundation that the Nation caught lobbying for education technology companies, including one tied directly to Bush.
3. Became Huge Booster of Death Penalty and Being “Tough on Crime”: In the governor's race, Bush accused his opponent of being too reticent to use the electric chair, and passed a series of laws designed to keep people in prison, such as the 10-20-Life law, which had no impact on the state's rate of violent crime. One of his signature initiatives was to champion and pass a bill to quicken the pace of executions in Florida. By 2006 he was forced to temporarily halt executions after one that was badly botched.
4. Intervened in Terri Schiavo Case: Bush made national headlines after trying to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose guardian had decided to take her off life support. His efforts were rebuked by the courts and the entire affair, which was supposed to be handled by loved ones, turned into a nasty case of government interfering in private matters.
5. Cut and Privatized Government Services: While championing the right for government to intervene in cases like Schiavo's, or put people to death quickly, Bush took aim at the government's ability to respond to social welfare needs. His Department of Children and Families lost track of 500 children under the care of the state; the foster care system was spun off altogether and had massive cost overruns. While gutting the ability of the state to respond to its people, he passed gigantic tax cuts for the wealthy, some $19 billion total over his time in office, “much of it benefiting businesses and investors” rather than families.
Bush's legacy for Florida can perhaps best be assessed by where it stood when he left office in 2007, before the country went into recession. During this relatively prosperous economic time, Florida had the third-worst rate for average percentage of people without heath insurance, behind only Texas and New Mexico. Its rate of infectious disease was 41 for every 100,000 people, the nation's highest rate. The significant rates of child poverty had an impact on Bush's signature issue: education. Analysis by researchers found a real link between poverty and results on Bush's prized FCAT standardized test.
If he ends up running, Bush will likely try to separate himself from his brother's legacy. But it's more or less the same story: more privatization, more poverty, more government intrusion into people's private lives, and more giveaways to the wealthy.