Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush returned to Tallahassee this morning, site of his greatest accomplishments during eight years in office.
Proclaiming “voters want to know what we believe in, but also what we’ve accomplished,” he went through a litany of his policies that made Florida a better place to live, work and play.
He cut governmental bureaucracy by more than 10 percent, he tackled the systemic problems of child welfare by creating the cutting-edge Community Based Care system, and he vetoed more than 2,500 budget items, thus earning him the nickname “Veto Corleone.”
Acknowledging that it was really meant as a compliment, he matter-of-factly called himself an “equal opportunity” vetoer, which indeed he was. But he also left Florida with more than $9 billion in the state's reserves, a tribute to his conservative governing principles.
I liked Gov. Bush from the first time I met him at a fundraiser hosted by Ambassador Mel Sembler in St. Petersburg back in late 1997. He’s an energetic leader who loves getting into the weeds on policies while simultaneously promoting out-of-the-box thinking.
He’s different from other GOP candidates to the extent that he’s deftly attuned to technology. He was, after all, Florida’s “IT Governor,” but he’s also pragmatic enough to know that the status quo needs to be constantly challenged.
So his admonishment that we need to “disrupt the establishment and make it accountable to the people” is not just some slick bumper sticker, but a proven mantra that he brought to his governing style.
When he added that “more and more people believe that government doesn’t work for them, but I believe it can,” he strikes you as someone who thinks that government can be managed to accomplish good but that the rules of the road must be changed.
Striking out in deliberate fashion, he went on to lay out a plan to change the culture of Washington in a very radical way, one that makes sense if only elected leaders in the nation’s capital are committed to revitalizing the federal management system.
Part One is to stop deficit spending by declaring, “I will support a balanced budget amendment.” Of course, he will need a willing Congress to support that effort and then a supermajority of the states to make it happen, but our debt is growing so large that we’re beginning to look a lot like Europe.
Next, he wants to have a “line-item veto,” which many presidents have craved only to never have the chance to make it happen. Washington politicians and bureaucrats should take heed, because if he gets elected, he will work night and day to get the authority to kill projects that are parochial and unjustified.
Proving that he’s a policy wonk, he then went after government procurement -- an overly expensive and slow process -- which no candidate has yet touched upon. In the defense budget, he spoke about a process that is so complicated only the largest defense companies in America can compete.
In the Veterans Affairs budget he cited the recent example of a VA hospital in Denver that was originally slated to cost $200 million. That figure subsequently ballooned to $1.8 billion and this is too often what the federal government does best -- effect cost overruns for which no one is ever held accountable.
As an aside, talking about the VA, when he said “John McCain -- he’s a real hero,” it made the best applause line of the speech.
He then turned his comments to the federal budget and he heaped scorn on the concept of "baseline budgeting," which is in vogue now, but which he rightfully described as a system designed to help government grow.
Bush promised that the first task he will undertake once he becomes president is limit new federal hiring to the 3:1 rule. For every three federal workers who retire, he’ll add one employee, because while he supports the full spectrum of employee rights, “job security is one thing, job entitlement is another.”
Mentioning lobbyists, of which I’m one, he talked about the undue influence that some lobbyists have in the system. Not one to be easily offended, I took his jabs as a legitimate attempt to tell the American public that he will always work to do the right thing and that there need to be limits on influence-peddling.
He even volunteered that there should be a ban on the so-called revolving door of federal elected officials going to the private sector by suggesting that the current two-year ban should be expanded to a six-year ban, a concept that will certainly resonate with Americans who feel like nothing ever really changes in D.C. because the players are always the same -- in or out of government.
He also charged federal legislators with not working hard at their jobs because, on average, they only work about three days per week. He then quickly cited the maxim that all private employees must live by: If you miss work, your pay is docked.
The governor’s solution is that congressmen, congresswomen and senators need to be incentivized, just like anyone else, and as such he wants to propose a law that would dock these elected officials if they miss a vote.
He readily admitted that he didn’t know if it would pass, but he was sure that the officials would at least show up and vote on this proposal, which got the best laugh of the speech.
As a conservative Republican, Gov. Jeb Bush is a leader who has a proven track record, can clearly state what he believes in, is willing to challenge the status quo for the good of the country and has a plan on how to make it happen -- and that’s what I’m looking for in a president.
Barney Bishop III, one of the most familiar faces within the state business community, is CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting LLC in Tallahassee.