Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard thinks so.
Bush’s laundry list of accomplishments, especially on the pockebook issues, makes it hard to disagree with Barnes, especially if you limit the contest to the largest 50% of the states (go to the second page of the article for this list; bolds are mine):
- Political leadership: Florida was a weak-governor state when Bush arrived. No more. It had cabinet government with six elected state officials besides the governor. Now the cabinet has been reduced to three members plus Bush, and power is not shared equally. Bush rules. He removed the bar association from a role in naming judges and now controls the selection process. He also eliminated the state board of regents, took control of the board of every public university, and gained the right to name the state education commissioner. And he’s changed the policy debate from how much government can do to how much it should leave to the people and the free market. “That’s his greatest effect,” says Robert McClure of the Bush-friendly James Madison Institute in Tallahassee.
- The economy: It’s bursting at the seams. Florida is no longer totally reliant on tourism, agriculture, and the retiree industry. Under Bush, Florida has become the fourth largest high-tech state. Its bond rating has been hiked to Triple A. The economy, in Bush’s words, was “knocked for a jolt” by 9/11. He “went out to shamelessly promote” tourism, and state construction projects were accelerated. It worked. He stubbornly fought a high-speed train connecting Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. It was approved in a 2000 referendum, only to be rejected in 2004 at Bush’s urging.
- Taxes: Bush has slashed $20 billion in taxes over eight years and enjoys the heartburn this gives the media and liberals. “I do love it,” he says. “Prior to my arrival, there may have been a tax cut or two, but normally the way to solve problems was to raise taxes.” This year, the legislature killed what Bush calls “the evil, insidious intangibles tax” on stocks and bonds. His tax cuts are all the more shocking in a state with no income tax but with a balanced budget requirement.
- Education: Bush’s education reforms have been vindicated by scholarly studies. Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute found testing to end social promotion in Florida schools had led to “substantial academic gains for low-performing schools.” A Harvard study concluded the stigma of poor student performance and the threat of vouchers caused schools to improve. The test scores of African-American and poor students rose significantly. One example: The percentage of African-American fourth graders reading at grade level doubled to 56 percent from 1999 to 2005.
- Medicaid: Bush’s bold experiment, due to begin in less than a month, has important national implications. In Broward and Duval counties, Medicaid recipients will choose among 19 insurance plans. The program provides incentives to change behavior by quitting smoking, seeking preventive care, and getting dental exams. The aim is not to cut the cost of Medicaid but to slow its staggering growth: Florida’s Medicaid budget jumped from $7 billion in 1999 to $16 billion in 2006. If the Florida test succeeds, other states will follow.
- Hurricanes: Bush is regularly consulted by governors on how to handle natural disasters and emergencies. What does he tell them? “My advice has been to be humble but strong,” he told me. “Emergencies are not about politics. . . . Giving transparent, clear information on a timely basis is expected because people are expecting strong leadership. I also have suggested that it is important to act decisively and worry about filling out the forms later.”
If it weren’t for his brother, there is little doubt that Jeb Bush would be 2008 presidential material. Maybe he still can be president, but not in 2008, both because he says he’s not running, and because the electorate will, for better or worse, not want to keep the highest office in the land in the same family for 12-16 years.
Ohioans can only hope that Ken Blackwell wins, and is taking notes about what the President’s younger brother has done.
UPDATE: Chad at Black Swamp Conservative, in a comment below, tipped me to a Buckeye Firearms entry about Jeb Bush’s success at passing pro-Second Amendment legislation. The link’s author thinks the faux conservative leadership in Ohio needs a serious lecture from Florida conservatives about RTKBA. I absolutely agree.
As to Bush, I don’t suppose anyone would notice if he changed his last name?