Emails Provide View Into Jeb Bush’s Governorship

Tallahassee, FL

The Wall Street Journal has reviewed several emails from then Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s tenure in office, though it is as yet hard to characterize it as a thorough review yielding an objective view of his overall time in office.

The Wall Street Journal requested copies of Mr. Bush’s emails two weeks ago, after he announced plans to release 250,000 emails next year in advance of an e-book about his governorship. Those emails come from a personal account Mr. Bush used to communicate with staff and constituents. The Journal also received hundreds of thousands of others from a state government account used primarily for constituent services.

Some of the emails deal with the time federal agents seized “6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in a predawn raid on his relatives’ Miami home, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was responding to emails from outraged citizens.”

“This is a horrible day,” he wrote to one correspondent at 8:32 a.m. on April 22, 2000.

“I am heartbroken over the federal government’s actions this morning,” he told a 19-year-old Cuban-American college student. “I am sickened about this,” he wrote to another concerned woman.

From the WSJ:

A sampling of hundreds of thousands of emails to and from Mr. Bush, obtained under Florida public-records law, offers a window into pivotal moments of his governorship. As Mr. Bush now explores a possible presidential bid, these glimpses of how he operated as governor are newly relevant.

The sagas of Elian Gonzalez and of severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo, the contested presidential election of his brother and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, among other high-profile events, tested Mr. Bush’s leadership and shaped public opinion. The governor’s emotions—and his conviction that he was doing the right thing—come through in a constant stream of correspondence with ordinary citizens.

“It is still frenetic,” he wrote during his first month in office to a supporter who asked about the pace of his new job. “I need to force it to slow down or we will all run out of gas.”

The emails are said to review a consistently negative view of the Castro government, which would be in line with Bush’s criticism of Barack Obama’s reent overtures to Cuba.

Elian recently turned 21 years old and is still living in Cuba. In 1999, on Thanksgiving Day, he was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Florida. His mother had died during the perilous journey to the U.S. He was released to relatives in Miami, setting off a custody dispute with his father in Cuba. Elian was eventually sent home, an outcome hailed as a happy ending for father and son and decried as a victory for the repressive Cuban regime.

Mr. Bush’s back-and-forth with citizens on both sides of the debate show that while he opposed the raid, he would support courts that ruled for Elian’s return.

“If a judge believes that the best thing for Elian is to go home, then I would support that decision,’’ he wrote in one email.

To one woman who said Elian belongs with his father, Mr. Bush wrote, “Maybe he belongs to his dad in a free country?”

Bush also became involved with the Terry Schiavo case, as some are sure to recall. Ms. Schiavo was a Florida resident who had spent over a decade in a “persistent vegetative state.”

Mr. Bush tried to stop her husband from removing her feeding tube. Ms. Schiavo’s husband ultimately prevailed, and she died in 2005.

“No, I don’t have the power to issue an executive order to remove Mr. Schiavo as guardian,” Mr. Bush wrote to a concerned woman in 2003. “There are limits to what a governor can do.” In response to a woman who sent him a critical newspaper column, he wrote, “We are on the right track. I really believe it.”

Some of the Bush emails also deal with the recount his brother George W. Bush endured when he ultimately won the White House himself.

“I believe my brother will win if the law is adhered to,” the governor wrote on Nov. 10 to a man who said he didn’t vote for George W. Bush. “I am sickened by the ‘second campaign’ now being waged,” he wrote, apparently referring to the election challenges.

At center stage of the contested vote was Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who had served as co-chairwoman of George W. Bush’s campaign in Florida. “She is doing a fine job adhering to the laws of Florida,” he wrote to a concerned supporter.

On Dec. 6, he thanked a Washington lawyer who had quietly provided legal advice. “I really appreciate your input on my role in this unique and historic situation,” Mr. Bush wrote to John G. Roberts, whom his brother nominated five years later to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Bush’s proclivity for engaging with his constituents continued in the hours after the terrorist attacks in 2001. “Pray for our country,” Mr. Bush told an Orlando pastor who offered to help that afternoon. When a Miami attorney wrote him late that night about upcoming blood drives, Mr. Bush wrote, “I will be giving blood tomorrow as well. God bless our beloved country.”