Published March 25, 2005
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It's not often Gov. Jeb Bush (search) is frustrated pursuing his goals. He was the first governor to start a statewide school voucher program. He got rid of civil service protections for tens of thousands of state workers. He pushed through billions of dollars in tax cuts. His goal of prolonging the life of Terri Schiavo (search) is proving much harder.
"It is frustrating for people to think that I have power that I don't, and not be able to act," Bush told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I don't have embedded special powers. I wish I did in this particular case."
Bush canceled travel plans Thursday to monitor the case of Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who has gone without food and water since a judge ordered her feeding tube removed March 18.
He was in constant contact with his legal office, ordered staffers to e-mail and call him with developments and demanded state laws be scoured for a way to reconnect Schiavo's feeding tube (search).
At his office, Bush waved an affidavit from neurologist William Cheshire (search) that questions whether Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state. The emotion in his voice rose as he detailed how the affidavit stated Schiavo made a crying sound, grimaced and pressed her eyebrows together when a doctor said he was going to turn her over.
She "signals her anticipation of pain. Just like you would, or just like I would. Now is it perfect? Is she responding with the same eloquence that you would respond to? ... No. She's severely, profoundly disabled," Bush said.
The governor's court record is mixed. He succeeded in removing affirmative action guarantees from state hiring and university admission practices, but a law requiring doctors to notify parents if they perform an abortion on minor girls was thrown out.
Still, he's been persistent. After a court threw out a law requiring tougher sentences for three-time felons, the governor went back to the Legislature and fixed the problem. Currently, he and lawmakers are working on a plan to require parents be notified before their minor daughters get abortions.
In the Schiavo case, he's running out of legal avenues — but not hope.
"You know what I hope for first and foremost? That Mr. Schiavo would say, 'I'm going to let Terri be with her parents. I'm going to move on with my life. I've made my point,'" Bush said, referring to Schiavo's husband, Michael, who insists she would not want to be kept alive artificially. "That obviously doesn't appear to be happening."
"So secondly I pray for an openness by the people who are responsible for making these decisions so we can act and allow for her to stabilize."
He says the courts appear to have turned a deaf ear to his arguments.
"For this lockdown to occur without having the ability to have an open mind, and say, 'Well, maybe there are new facts on the table, maybe there are new technologies, maybe, just maybe, we should be cautious about this' ... is very troubling," Bush said.
In 2003, when the Legislature passed a law allowing Bush to order the feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed, critics accused him of political grandstanding as his brother, President Bush, sought re-election.
Justin Sayfie, Bush's former communications director, said they were wrong: "He's term-limited out. His brother is term-limited out."
"Most strategists or political operatives would say 'Don't touch this,'" said GOP political strategist Geoffrey Becker, noting polls show most people don't believe government should be involved in the case. "I firmly believe that this is his personal conviction, that he believes this is the right thing to do."