Bush thinks past One Florida

Jeb Bush agrees that the One Florida Initiative is something for which he will always be remembered.

The affirmative action laws that some said gave unfair advantages to minorities in some instances were quickly halted by Bush’s administration. The One Florida Initiative centered on increasing opportunities for minorities in the state’s university system and with state contracting.

According to the initiative’s Web site, www.oneflorida.org, it did so “without using policies that discriminate or pit one racial group against another.” Bush said the plan has done what it promised.

When the plan was enacted in 1999, it was quickly met with opposition from concerned citizens and state government officials.

In January 2000, Sen. Kendrick Meek and Rep. Tony Hill staged a day-long sit-in at the governor’s office to show their opposition to the initiative.

In March 2000, more than 10,000 people converged on the capitol to show their support in keeping affirmative action, vowing to “remember in November.”

How the hoopla surrounding the plan unfolded is still confusing to Bush.

“For several months, there was no criticism,” he said in November. “The criticism began to occur after there was an organized effort for it to work. The initial response was pretty positive.”

He believes the One Florida Initiative brought forth more opportunities for minorities in Florida without using the laws that were seen as unconstitutional. Seeing an increase in the enrollment of blacks in Florida’s universities was also an expected outcome. It was unlike Texas and California, who experienced a “black flight” from post-secondary schools.

“More students are being prepared for college,” he said. “More African-Americans are enrolled in our universities, rather than what happened in Texas and California.”

“The end result is that after a lot of hardship, pain and controversy years later you don’t see a lot of people marching in the street because the results are where people can see them.”

Still, many people felt the initiative was his way of getting rid of laws protecting minorities from discrimination.

Bush said he continues to be able to sleep at night since the plan was enacted because it was a decision he made with the residents of Florida in mind.

“Being popular is not what the job is about,” he said.

But getting the job done is.

And a majority vote in November’s election over Tampa Lawyer Bill McBride proved he has done so.

And he has plans to continue doing so.

So with the past behind him, he is trying to move forward and tackle omnipresent problems such as balancing the state’s budget, which will have to stretch to cover more ground because of increasing Medicaid costs and Amendment 9, which sets aside legislative funding to reduce class size in grades pre-school through 12.

“We will have a tough budget year,” he said via e-mail last week. “But so much better than other states. We have adequate reserves and strong fiscal discipline to get through the rough times.”

One of many things Bush plans to accomplish is making reading more important to Florida residents. Early last year he announced a state partnership with Florida cities to recruit mentors for younger students in what he called the “reading army.”

Bush said his agenda for the next four years is a simple one: “To stay focused on the reforms that are necessary to serve the wonderful people of this state.”