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Jeb Bush's test is to be governor to all Florida

Many of my chronically single friends claim to have a low view of the opposite gender. All men (women) are so-and-so. They will give this speech with enthusiasm right up until a new one comes along. Then hope flares up.

This also is our relationship with politics. We sneer cynically at politicians in general. But, having idolized one or two over a lifetime (FDR, JFK, Reagan, depending on your bent), we search each new face.

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, the people of Florida begin a new relationship with a new governor. There is no way to know at the outset whether he will be a success or a flop. But no governor in a generation has had as free a hand to put his stamp on this state.

Bob Graham, a Democrat elected governor in 1978, started out as a flop. He got the nickname "Governor Jell-O." He got much stronger, but he had to spend much of his energy putting out fires _ dealing with a recession, the Mariel boat lift, one crisis after another.

Bob Martinez, a Republican elected in 1986, started out with an uneasy truce with the Democrats who ran the Legislature. But they soon were at each other's throats. The Martinez stalemate lasted only one term.

Lawton Chiles rode in as a Democratic savior in 1990. But he had to preside over the end of Democratic rule in Florida. By the end of his eight years, he faced a Republican Legislature that checked his will.

Now comes Jeb Bush, a young Republican governor riding into office with a mandate. The Legislature is firmly in the hand of his fellow Republicans, and his party admires him like a hero.

What can they do?

Anything they want.

Those of us who do not care about party labels hope that Bush can break the tiresome mold.

Like any conservative, he has a deep disgust for the hidebound bureaucracy and orthodox thinking installed over generations by the Democrats.

But Bush also is repelled by the shrill, us-against-them tone of extremists in his own party.

Having a comfort with diversity that begins in his own home, Bush speaks sensitively to minorities. No Republican in Florida has ever made such an effort to include such breadth in his campaign and government.

After some hemming and hawing, Bush said he would have vetoed the school prayer bill passed last year by his fellow Republicans. When he was running the Foundation for Florida's Future, Bush urged his party to be careful with social legislation such as radical changes to the no-fault divorce laws.

In sum: It took Nixon to open the door to Communist China. Bush has the chance to open the door to reform of Democratic excesses without swapping them out for Republican excesses.

The Republican Legislature, so far, has been much more concerned with a Bush-style agenda of running the government better than with pursuing a divisive social agenda (school prayer and new abortion restrictions being notable exceptions). But there is a pent-up frustration among social conservatives.

The natural pressure on Bush will be toward the right, not the center. The Democrats, the bureaucracy, the unions, the Tallahassee establishment will not cheer for him. If he is looking for applause, the easiest place to get it will be among Republicans. At his worst, Bush indulges them with simplistic applause-getters: No more appeals! Ten, 20, life! And his party goes: Yea for Jeb.

Bush's test will be to keep a clarity of purpose, to refuse to be content with party labels, to know his friends are not automatically right and his enemies are not automatically wrong _ in the end, to ignore them all if he is convinced he is right, even if it costs him re-election.

This is a tall order. It would be ungracious to say anything else on this day except: Good luck.