January 21, 2015


The audacity of Jeb Bush: A governor goes all in on the Terri Schiavo case (Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith, January 16, 2015, Tampa Bay Times)

Time has moved on, but the Schiavo ordeal is a stark reminder of how conservative the governor was and how he could dig in when he felt he was right, as was almost always the case. The most wrenching and human crisis Bush endured in his two terms provides a window into a leader who was as commanding as he was polarizing.

"This was all about his personal feelings. It had nothing to do with running the state. To make allegations, when he didn't even know Terri, it was just unbelievable," Michael Schiavo, a registered Republican, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "He never called me, and if he was so interested why didn't he come see her?" he added, recounting how Bush made time to appear on ABC's Extreme Home Makeover show in St. Petersburg but not to see Terri Schiavo, who was minutes away.

Bush did communicate with Terri Schiavo's parents and brother, Bobby, who now runs the nonprofit Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.

"While my family and I wished Gov. Bush could have done more, I think he probably did as much as possible within his jurisdiction at the time," Bobby Schindler said in an interview. "He has never backpedaled from his position since Terri's death. I wish I could say the same about other politicians who were supportive in Terri's case but who, subsequent to her death, changed their positions with the political tide to avoid controversy."

The safe thing for Bush would have been to avoid the war between Terri Schiavo's husband and her parents. It began in 1990 when Terri's heart stopped beating because of a potassium imbalance possibly related to an eating disorder. She entered a "persistent vegetative state," according to medical experts. She had never written a will. Her husband sought treatment, but, with no sign of recovery, family friction grew. There were allegations of abuse and fighting over a $1 million medical malpractice settlement.

A messy conflict that played out in court gained national attention in 2003 as Michael Schiavo, who contended his wife would not want to be kept alive, accumulated legal victories. Her parents argued that Michael was an unfit guardian, that their daughter was not in a chronic vegetative state, and that she would not want to end her life.

The case had made its way through the courts for five years when Bush waded into uneasy constitutional territory -- and applied overt political pressure -- by asking Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer for a guardian to review the case before Terri Schiavo's life support was cut off.

"I normally would not address a letter to a judge in a pending legal proceeding," Bush wrote in late August 2003. "However my office has received over 27,000 emails reflecting understandable concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo." Greer, a Republican, was not swayed.

The emails Bush cited -- and tens of thousands of others covering a range of issues from his eight years in Tallahassee -- have long been part of the public record but are getting a new look from reporters and opposition researchers as the 61-year-old strongly considers a run for president.

Posted by at January 21, 2015 3:48 PM

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