Long after he left the Governor's Mansion in 2007, Jeb Bush remained the strongest force in shaping Florida's education policies, stronger than his successors, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.
But whether it's due to high-stakes testing fatigue or Scott's nervousness over his re-election prospects, the former governor's sway has taken some big hits lately — the state Board of Education voting recently to inflate school grades for the second year in a row, for instance, and legislators again killing a "parent-trigger" bill that would enable parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools, including turning them into privately run charter schools.
Now state GOP leaders look increasingly anxious about grass roots conservative backlash against the Common Core state standards long championed by Bush and adopted by Florida and 44 other states. Even Bush's old protegee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, is bashing Common Core.
"Common Core started out as a well-intentioned effort to develop more rigorous curriculum standards," Rubio told the Buzz. "However, it is increasingly being used by the Obama administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board. This effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards is not the best way to help our children attain the best education. Empowering parents, local communities and the individual states is the best approach."
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford earlier this month called on the state to pull out of the group designing the standardized tests aligned with Common Core. Their announcement fueled speculation they may be backing away from Common Core, though they insist it's only the testing they're questioning, not the standards themselves.
Don't underestimate the threat conservative opposition poses to the new accountability standards in Florida (predictable liberal opposition doesn't bother Republicans leaders especially).
Were it not for grass roots, conservative opposition to Common Core, Tony Bennett may well have won re-election as Indiana's education superintendent last year and wouldn't be Florida's education commissioner today.
It's no accident then that Bennett has been meeting with local Republican Executive Committees across the state to discuss Common Core. In addition, five former state Republican chairmen recently wrote party officials to express their support for Common Core.
"Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation about the movement to raise academic standards, especially among our fellow conservatives," wrote John Thrasher, Carole Jean Jordan, Al Cardenas, Tom Slade and Van Poole. (Jim Greer, currently incarcerated at Gulf Forestry Camp in North Florida for grand theft presumably was unavailable.)
"… There are good conservatives on both sides of this issue. Questioning the integrity of anyone involved on either side of this debate does not do our Party or this issue any favors," they wrote. "We implore our fellow Republicans to judge the Common Core State Standards by what they are: academic standards, not curriculum and not a national mandate."
Common Core's roots predate the rise of the tea party, and as its implementation looms, the Florida GOP so long dominated by Jeb Bush is facing a quietly raging internal debate that is likely to become more visible over the next year.
Quote of the week
"I will have $25 million in the bank by the end of the year and will use it in early 2014 to define my opponent." Gov. Scott, discussing his re-election strategy with National Review last week.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, appears on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today, where he suggests Republicans need to be more than a party of no: "We as a party have got to understand that the American people know that they need to have solutions," Ross says in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
"We can have 'no' as a short-term policy for a little while but at some point we've got to start adding substance to that — whether it be immigration reform, tax reform or health care reform — we've got to offer alternatives that the American public can assess and debate."
Charlie Crist turned 57 on Wednesday. Naturally the Florida GOP couldn't resist sending out its (worst) wishes, in the form of a cut-and-paste card mixing dour headlines from his four-year term in office. This Hallmark moment includes: "Jobless rate keeps climbing," "Home sales keep sliding," "Misery goes on for South Florida sellers." The icing on the cake is that memorable image from the birthday party that was thrown for Crist by Scott Rothstein, the disgraced Fort Lauderdale lawyer and fundraiser who ended up going to prison.
Who is the real Rick Scott? The Florida Democratic Party wants to tell you.
On Thursday, the Dems rolled out a new Web-based campaign "dedicated to exposing the truth of Rick Scott's extreme agenda as governor," party chairwoman Allison Tant said, unveiling RealRickScott.com.
"In poll after poll, Floridians have reported their total lack of trust in this governor," Tant said. "Now, with his re-election looming, we have seen him try to change his stripes and camouflage his real beliefs in an effort to win over voters."
Richard Danielson, Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz.