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Advice from Jeb Bush to Gov. Rick Scott discovered in transition e-mails

TALLAHASSEE — Former Gov. Jeb Bush offered to be a confidential sounding board for newly elected Gov. Rick Scott while urging him to expand school vouchers to all students, release elderly prisoners early and consider taxing online purchases in exchange for cuts to other taxes.

The suggestions came in an e-mail Bush sent just days before Scott took office.

"You didn't ask for this, but it is the standard 'envelope in the desk to the new guy' for words from the old guy," Bush wrote. "To be honest, I did the same thing to Gov. Crist but he did nothing I suggested, so with the risk of being presumptuous, I am trying again."

The words of wisdom from Bush were released to the Associated Press after the Times/Herald reported Aug. 18 that transition e-mail accounts for Scott and others on his staff were deleted, potentially erasing public records required to be kept under state law.

Tallahassee lawyer and Scott transition adviser Chris Kise tried to reproduce Scott's e-mails through correspondence found on the personal accounts of a handful of top staffers. Kise then delivered those e-mails to the Times/Herald, but Bush's e-mail was not originally included.

Bush's list of "lessons learned through trial and error" covered a range of issues, including an assurance that it was "OK to veto stupid bills" from lawmakers and to make sure Scott's wife, Ann, had an effective staff as first lady.

"Her cause should be your cause," Bush wrote.

Bush also encouraged Scott to make life easy for Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents tasked with protecting him.

"Both Gov. Chiles and Crist put them in difficult positions by rejecting their involvement in their private lives," Bush wrote. "They are not intrusive but they need to protect you."

It was unclear what Bush was referring to. He did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Crist said Wednesday he didn't know.

Crist also disputed that he ever received a list of suggestions from Bush. Crist said he received from Bush a copy of A Team of Rivals by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Crist gave Scott Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.

"I thought that was a nice gesture, and I wanted to be as nice as Gov. Bush had been to me," Crist said.

Bush's e-mail was sent just days before Scott was sworn in on Jan. 4.

In two separate documents attached to the e-mail, Bush urged Scott to end one of the state's pension plans, sell the Florida Virtual School and take his first trade mission to Brazil and Colombia. (Scott is traveling to Brazil in October.)

Bush, the state's last two-term governor, also told his fellow Republican to "own the budget," even though lawmakers are in charge of appropriating money.

"By aggressively dominating the budget, the Legislature will grouse but it brings order to the whole process for them to be working off your budget and agenda," Bush said. "The budget drives policy."

Some of Bush's ideas were turned into state law this year, including a plan expand online education in public schools and another to put Medicaid patients into managed care. Scott supported both on the campaign.

Bush urged Scott to push for "education savings accounts," acknowledging that the universal private school vouchers would be a constitutional issue.

"I don't know how our court will respond but it will be a game changer for the country and you might have the chance to change the makeup of the court," he wrote.

Bush also suggested saving more than $150 million a year by stopping the state from paying for "institutes" at universities and selling off the Florida Virtual School while using the proceeds to fund a technology initiative that would lead the nation.

Bush's advice veered away from policy to suggestions on how to lead the fourth-most populous state in the country.

Bush said the ability "to convene to listen and learn" was among the most "understated" powers of the office.

"You can bring together the best and the brightest throughout the state and around the country, and you should take advantage of it," Bush wrote. "If you have a view already, the power to convene can validate that view and allow for a great chance of its implementation."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Advice from Jeb Bush to Gov. Rick Scott discovered in transition e-mails 08/24/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:10pm]
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