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Corporate Socialist News, Part 1: Sen. Jeb Bush, R-Lehman, CSX, FEC?

December 4th, 2008 1:30 pm | by

You’ve probably seen that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may run for the U.S. senate seat fellow Republican Mel Martinez will vacate in 2010.

Don’t be fooled by talk of Bush fatigue. Jeb is urbane, articulate about policy, and very warm toward and popular among Hispanics – everything that the core of his party is not. His governorship is widely perceived as a success. If Jeb runs, he will win the Republican nomination without opposition. He will likely defeat whoever Florida’s weak Democratic party throws up against him.

However, I am not sure how well Jeb will function in the senate if he wins. In my brief experience of interviewing him, even before the CSX stuff, I found him to have a prickly, highly executive demeanor. And I think my experience dovetails with the conventional wisdom about him. Jeb seems to like being in charge. I wonder if he would become frustrated by the senate – and its co-equal coterie of egos.

Anyway, I think any candidate who hopes to beat Jeb will need to attack the perceptions that he was successful as governor, a perception I personally don’t think the evidence supports. I think Jeb’s record allows him to be portrayed as the embodiment of corporate socialism, as a champion of the political and business cronyism that has wrecked this country. In that sense, he’s vulnerable to critiques from the political left and right.

Read the extended edition for some free advice on how to do that. Caveat emptor, of course:

1) Give him a new name: Governor Jeb Bubble. Supporters will talk about the strength of Florida’s economy during Jeb’s term. How’s that working out for us now? His legacy, more than anything else, is half-built condos, foreclosure farm exurbs, shrinking universities with uncertain leadership models, and a lot of tenuous, lowpaying service industry jobs.

Jeb is the political equivalent of the dot com CEO who sold his shares right before everything crashed. He was a relentless supporter of the building/development community – he’s a developer himself, after all – and, as near as I can tell, did nothing to try to sensibly moderate our housing bubble. He certainly didn’t address the massive overcapacity problems in the housing industry. If Jeb’s going to take credit for the temporary benefits of his growth-at-all-costs approach, he needs to wear the longterm disasters just as tightly.

2) Don’t get bogged down in debating education numbers with Jeb. Remember, he and his people built the corrupt, incoherent measurement system that drives our state’s scoreboard education model. It was a brilliant political stroke. Impose a byzantine, opaque measurement you control and then tout it as evidence of the success of reform. Nevermind that the measurement system has been adjusted so often that A, B, C etc. have lost virtually all meaning as indicators of school quality. If you try to debate the state of education using Jeb’s numbers, you’ll lose. The much better approach is to simply ask parents and the public directly: Do you really think education has improved in this state over the last 10 years? Ask parents directly: Are you happy with your school’s resources?

3) His business dealings, both as the privatizer-in-chief as governor and afterward as a Lehman Brothers flunkie, provide ample ammunition for the corporate socialist meme.

For me, the apotheosis of this – you know what’s coming – is the CSX/FEC push. Not going to recapitulate all this here. But, if you are a poltical/muckraking reporter or political operative, go back over this special report Lindsay Peterson and I wrote last year.

Pay particular attention to the one involving Florida East Coast Rail.

It’s received far less attention than the CSX angle. The bottom line: Jeb mentor Armando Codina received an enormous amount of money – tens of millions – about a year after joining FEC. That happened because a private equity firm bought FEC at roughly the same time the state was actively, but secretly, pursuing a purchase of some or all of FEC’s Jacksonville to Miami rail line. Emails suggests Jeb set that secret state negotiation in motion. The big question is what role, if any, did the state negotiation play in driving up the value of FEC for the private purchase. The state, of course, says none. I don’t know the answer, but it is a hugely underscrutinized story.

Corporate Socialism News, Part 2 will be coming tomorrow.

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