As he winds up eight years in the White House, President Bush leaves behind a mixed record for Florida. He can point to some environmental successes, and his focus on inter-American trade helped expand the state's economy. On any number of levels, it certainly benefited Floridians that one of the president's younger brothers was governor of the state for six of his eight years. But the president's missteps on relations with Cuba, and his push to privatize some social services, worked against immigrant families, seniors and other residents. Bush's Sunshine State legacy includes:
Environment. Gov. Jeb Bush and then-President Clinton launched the $8-billion, state-federal effort to restore the Everglades in December 2000. But it fell to President Bush to implement this unprecedented environmental collaboration between the state and federal governments. The Everglades plan has its problems; work is behind schedule and securing the necessary funds will take years, if not decades. But Bush got the work started and helped keep Washington engaged in the tough, early going.
Trade. The president's push to vastly expand free trade throughout the Americas helped broaden the state's economy. Over the last decade, the value of Florida's global trade has nearly doubled. Texas and Florida, for example, account for half of all U.S. goods exported to Colombia and Peru. Florida has become a center of international banking and a major gateway for merchandise between the United States, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Cuba. When restrictions should have been loosened, Bush played to hard-liners by further restricting how often Cuban-Americans could visit or send money to family members on the island. While the move was meant to further isolate Fidel Castro, it exposed how punitive the embargo had become on ordinary families.
Medicaid. The Bush administration agreed to several waivers in 2001 that loosened restrictions on how the federal government would subsidize Medicaid. The changes, which came in response to an appeal by Gov. Jeb Bush, brought $182-million in immediate financial assistance to Florida. The waivers secured much-needed cash for charity care hospitals and health care programs for children, pregnant women and those in need of transportation to see a doctor.
Security. In 2002, Florida won the largest share of federal money for protecting the nation's seaports. Coming just months after the 9/11 attacks, the $20-million for lighting, fences, surveillance cameras and other hardware sent a jolt of confidence to six Florida seaports — enormous economic drivers for the state.
Hurricane relief. The Bush administration will be remembered for its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. But a year earlier, in 2004, when four hurricanes hit Florida within a period of weeks, Bush's Federal Emergency Management Agency gave Florida the support it needed. The governor credited the agency with keeping disaster relief flowing, and he secured an agreement by the president for the federal government to take on a larger share of the state's hurricane-related costs. The federal government also worked to make it easier for Floridians to receive financial assistance after the disasters.
History. Long after policy details are forgotten, Floridians will remember the 2000 presidential recount that was ended by the U.S. Supreme Court with Bush ahead by 537 votes. And it was here, in a Sarasota classroom, where Bush was first told of the terrorist attacks that defined his presidency.
President Bush's larger legacy in Florida is shaped by many of the same forces that have scarred the country — the cost in lives and treasure from his adventurism in Iraq, his misplaced domestic spending priorities, his failure to regulate the financial markets. But there was an advantage in having the president's brother in the Governor's Mansion, and the Bush brothers combined to produce some significant achievements for Floridians.