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Road rockier for One Florida

GOP support appears to falter after Gov. Bush's alternative to affirmative action is fiercely attacked in the Miami hearing.

A day after a raucous Miami hearing on Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to overhaul affirmative action, opponents and allies alike were raising questions about the proposal.

For the first time, cracks appeared in the governor's wall of Republican support, with two key lawmakers suggesting Bush may need to slow down his One Florida initiative.

"Anyone who sits through 15 hours of the kind of highly charged testimony that we've had over the past two weeks has to be moved over the depth of concern people have over this proposal," said Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor, co-chairman of the legislative task force holding the hearings.

Democrats, on the other hand, complained that Bush left early from Thursday's emotional hearing to campaign for his brother, George W. Bush, in California. Many of the thousands who attended the hearing suggested that One Florida was a scheme to help his brother's presidential bid in Florida.

"I heard ahead of time he planned to leave early, but if I had nearly 5,000 people in an auditorium and in a line wrapping around the block to talk about my plan, I would have seen it as enough of a priority to stay," said Democratic state Sen. Kendrick Meek of Miami. "If he left for political reasons, I assume that's his priority, over equality and justice."

The governor spent about 2{ hours at the seven-hour hearing, where he was jeered and repeatedly lambasted by critics, while Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan remained until the end.

Bush flew to California about 6 p.m. for a trip funded by the George W. Bush campaign. On Friday, he had a couple of meetings on Florida business and attended a fundraiser in Sacramento, where he helped raise $100,000 for his brother's campaign, the Associated Press reported.

The governor's spokesman, Justin Sayfie, said that Bush will receive transcripts from the hearing and that the governor did not have to attend in the first place.

"The governor showed tremendous courage by going there and listening to what people had to say. We suspected it wouldn't be a friendly environment," Sayfie said.

The California trip drew quick criticism from Democrats.

"The One Florida should be more important to the governor than going to California to raise money for his brother," said state Rep. Les Miller of Tampa, the House minority leader.

Bush has pitched One Florida as a way to improve opportunities for minorities by revamping affirmative action programs.

Signed as a set of executive orders in November, it would end race-based preferences in state contracting and university admissions and also would enact various measures aimed at promoting diversity. For example, it would guarantee university admission to any high school senior in the top 20 percent of the graduating class.

But One Florida has galvanized critics, who have packed public hearings and accused the governor of trying to dismantle what civil rights soldiers fought long and hard to obtain.

The hearings appear to be having an effect on some lawmakers. The Republican co-chairmen of the legislative task force holding hearings on One Florida both suggested Friday that Bush's initiative may need to slow down a bit.

"There has to be a way where people can build some confidence in what we're trying to accomplish, and perhaps that's through implementing some of these things over a longer period of time," said House Majority Leader Jerry Maygarden of Pensacola, co-chairman of the task force hearings.

Latvala, the Senate majority leader, said that never in his lengthy political career has he seen the kind of emotion and energy he saw in Miami.

Latvala said Friday the governor needs to be open to suggestions. He suggests "sunsetting" the admissions component in two years so that its success at bringing more minorities into the university system can be reviewed before it is automatically extended.

The Board of Regents is expected to take up the university aspects of the plan this month.

He was reluctant to delve into specifics, but Latvala also believes that one aspect of the plan that needs more fine tuning is the element that aims to encourage state contracting agents to send work to minority businesses. "I think the governor needs to modify parts of his executive order or delay its implementation," he said.

State Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, also sits on legislative committee but on Friday said the fiery hearings had not dimmed his support for One Florida. Bradley was among the African-American allies of Bush who was consulted on the plan early on.

"I support affirmative action, and I support One Florida because I think it supplements the current affirmative action scenario," he said. "But it has become crystal clear to me that some people are just interested in playing political football with this whole issue."

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