On Monday, after six months of “actively exploring” and raising massive amounts of cash, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush finally made his long-assumed bid for President official with a kickoff speech at Miami Dade College.
Key to his campaign, as he tries to stand out in a crowded and growing GOP primary, is touting his eight years in the governor’s mansion in Florida, where he made sweeping economic and social policy changes that continue to reverberate in the state today.
In recent speeches, Bush has pointed to his “pro-life record” as governor, which included opposing funding for stem cell research as well as his involvement in the controversial Terri Schiavo case — which overrode a family’s wishes and re-inserted a feeding tube into a woman who had been brain-dead for 15 years.
Yet the Governor was not only in favor of the death penalty, he pushed for changes to speed up capital punishment cases and make it easier to execute people.
With some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors focusing heavily on criminal justice reform — particularly policies that reduce the country’s massive prison population — Bush may have a challenging time explaining his record.
In his first year as governor he signed a bill that increased some mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders. He also worked to block efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, and fought to keep harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenders, even though he was a regular smoker in his youth. In 2002, he opposed a ballot measure that would have allowed drug offenders to enter treatment programs instead of prison.
Bush’s changes on the economic front were even more influential. He eliminated about 13,000 government jobs — more than 10 percent of the entire state government — in part by privatizing a slew of public services, including foster care, adoption services, legal representation for death row prisoners, human resources, and state parks. His penchant for privatization continued after he left office, with investments in private disaster response corporations and for-profit education. He has recently called for privatizing veterans health care.
Today, Florida is one of the country’s most unequal states, with the one of the widest and fastest growing gaps between the rich and the poor. The loss of tax revenue also fueled the state’s debt, which rose from $15 billion to more than $23 billion while Bush was in office.