December 18, 2014


Governor in Chief : Jeb Bush's remarkable eight years of achievement in Florida. (FRED BARNES, 6/12/06, Weekly Standard)

Why is Jeb Bush the best? It's very simple. His record is the best. No other governor, Republican or Democrat, comes close. Donna Arduin, perhaps the most respected state budget expert in the country, has worked for four big-state Republican governors--John Engler of Michigan, George Pataki of New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Bush. Even while she worked for Schwarzenegger, she told me Bush is "absolutely" the nation's premier governor. "He's principled, brilliant, willing to ignore his pollsters, and say no to his friends," she says.

Engler, now head of the National Association of Manufacturers, knows Jeb Bush well and has watched the course of his governorship. He says flatly: "Jeb Bush is the finest governor in the country." Jim Gilmore, the ex-governor of Virginia, declines to rank governors. But he says Bush, as governor of a big state, "had a big challenge and he met it."

In a state with a surging population, Bush has presided over a booming economy with the highest rate of job creation in the country and an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent (the national average is 4.6 percent). Florida has no state income tax, but Bush has nonetheless found a way to cut taxes every year of the eight he's been in office. Meanwhile, he's trimmed the state employment rolls by 11,000.

"Politics is a game for risk takers," says Mike Murphy, a political strategist for Bush and other governors, including Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Schwarzenegger. And Bush is an extraordinary risk taker and innovator. He's made Florida, in the jargon of bipartisan experts, a "laboratory of democracy." He's mined state and local think tanks for ideas that might streamline state government and make it more effective.

He's the first governor to impose stringent testing and accountability on Florida elementary and secondary schools, along with three voucher programs, the most ambitious of which was struck down this year by the (liberal and majority Democratic) state supreme court. This achievement went beyond the No Child Left Behind program of his brother, President Bush, who dropped vouchers in a compromise with Democrats in 2001.

On health care, no governor has attacked Medicaid, whose costs are swamping state budgets, more boldly than Bush. He wangled a breathtakingly broad waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to privatize Medicaid in two populous counties, Duval (Jacksonville) and Broward (Fort Lauderdale). The new program, affecting more than 200,000 Medicaid recipients, goes into effect July 1.

Two more things. Bush, after handling eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has become the undisputed national leader in emergency management. Imagine if he had been governor of Louisiana when Katrina hit last summer.

He really just doesn't have a peer in the GOP field.

Posted by at December 18, 2014 4:10 PM

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