MAXWELL:  Why so many people are glad Jeb is gone
2/4/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

I am glad that Jeb Bush is no longer Florida’s governor.
Based on what I am reading and hearing, I am not alone. Many other Floridians, even some who supported Jeb, are glad to be rid of him.
One of my friends summed up his and many other people’s feelings: “It’s nice to be able to take a breath for a change.”
I met Jeb and interviewed him for the first time when he ran against Lawton Chiles in 1994 and lost. I met and interviewed him twice when he ran against Buddy MacKay in 1998 and won, at the Liberty City Charter School in Miami, which Bush co-founded with T. Willard Fair, and at the headquarters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee.
Each interview gave me valuable insight into Jeb. I saw a young, highly intelligent patrician who was full of Republican ideas and ideals. Each time I was with Jeb, I studied his behavior and that of his staff and others around him. I suspected that Jeb would rule with the proverbial iron fist – “my way or the highway,” with “fear and trembling.”
He did not disappoint.
Jeb’s management style has been put in sharp relief as newly elected Republican Gov. Charlie Crist stamps his imprint on Tallahassee politics. Since Crist’s ascendancy, headlines across the state have been announcing a “new tone,” a “new atmosphere” and a “new day” at the Capitol.
Note this assessment in the Times: “Lawmakers, lobbyists and political observers say a new tone – more cordial, more cooperative, maybe even bipartisan – has emerged in the days following the inauguration of Gov. Charlie Crist and preceding the first legislative session in nine years that won’t be dominated by former Gov. Jeb Bush.”
For me, the word that stands out is “dominated.”
As a former teacher, I know many other teachers who felt isolated, demonized and powerless in Jeb’s Florida. Two weeks ago, when the Senate Education Committee met in Tallahassee to consider a bill that might help the state more successfully recruit and retain teachers, a sense of normalcy was in the air. For the first time in nine years, teachers and school administrators were allowed to speak and offer ideas.
Under Jeb, teachers and administrators were not welcome, especially if they disagreed with Jeb and his loyal lieutenants. Wayne Blanton, longtime executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, told the St. Petersburg Times that teachers and administrators now are “not afraid to express their opinion. And if they disagree, they’re not afraid of being punished.”
In the same vein, although Republicans remain in solid control of the Legislature and the Education Committee in particular, Democrats have been awarded real powers that were out of reach under the partisan Jeb.
Over the years, I routinely read articles and heard broadcasts that described Jeb as “Florida’s popular governor.” I never bought into this description. Jeb was Florida’s feared governor. I will never forget what happened in January 2000 when two black legislators staged a sit-in at Jeb’s Capitol office. Jeb told security: “Kick their asses out.” The governor claimed that he was referring to reporters, not the two lawmakers. No matter. The real bullying Jeb was speaking.
As I think of Jeb’s style of governance and why so many people are glad that he is gone, I am reminded of the character Joe Starks, the mayor of Eatonville, in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Like Jeb, Joe Starks ruled harshly, and yet he assumed that his constituents loved him. In reality, however, the people feared the mayor.
“There was something about Joe Starks that cowed the town,” Hurston writes. “It was not because of physical fear. He was no fist fighter. His bulk was not even imposing as men go. Neither was it because he was more literate than the rest. Something else made men give way before him. He had a bow-down command in his face, and every step he took made the thing more tangible.”
In another place, Hurston writes of Joe Starks and the townspeople: “There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power … is bound to meet hate. So when speakers stood up when the occasion demanded and said ‘Our beloved Mayor,’ it was one of those statements that everybody says but nobody actually believes….”
And so it goes with Jeb Bush.