Jeb Bush Gets High Marks for Leadership

No, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) didn't get his way this spring on class size or Terri Schiavo (search). But even his political foes admit he has had a remarkably effectively run over the past seven years if he ever wants to follow his father and his brother into the White House.

He created the nation's first statewide school voucher (search) program, cut taxes by billions, overhauled the election system after the hanging-chad fiasco of 2000, set aside money to restore the Everglades (search), stiffened Florida's criminal penalties and protected doctors and businesses from lawsuits.

Bush has also clearly led the Republican Party to its strongest position in modern-day Florida.

"He consolidated more power in the governor's office than any of the past governors and he set out a right-wing agenda and accomplished it," said former Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox, who is running for governor in 2006.

Bush has to leave office in January 2007 because of term limits. He has said he is not running for president in 2008, but he has not ruled out a bid later.

If he does run, he will bring a strong resume into the Republican primary.

"In the last seven Legislative sessions he was able to obtain in one fashion or another everything he set out to do," said former Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican.

The governor was unable to keep a brain-damaged Schiavo alive. While the Legislature went along with an effort in 2003 to restore her feeding tube, the Senate would not get involved this time. But Bush burnished his credentials with conservatives merely by trying.

Two other priorities also failed — an attempt to ease limits on class size in public schools, and an expansion of school vouchers. And the Legislature is forcing him to go slower than he would like in trying to make Medicaid (search) work more like private managed care.

"Compared to the other six years, deep down inside he knows this has been his worst year since he's been governor," said Senate Democratic Leader Les Miller.

Still, the governor said: "If it's my agenda that is being discussed, then I've done my job. I have no expectation that the Florida Legislature is going to blindly embrace every one of my initiatives."

Scot Schraufnagel, a University of Central Florida political science professor, said the governor's agenda has been a little more aggressive this time, and "by virtue of the aggressive nature of it, he's going to be less successful."

In 1992, the Democrats controlled the state Senate, the House and governor's office. Now, they have only 14 of 40 Senate seats and 36 of 120 House seats, and Bush became Florida's first Republican governor to get re-elected.

Moreover, "he's a better speaker than his brother. He's able to enunciate more succinctly his thoughts and visions and that ability is certainly something that would serve him well in 2012," said Rep. Mark Foley (search), R-Fla.

Beyond the Capitol, Bush was widely praised for his leadership during and after the four hurricanes that hit Florida last year. His profile was also raised outside of Florida when President Bush sent him to Southeast Asia after the tsunami. The governor also represented his brother at the Vatican for Pope Benedict XVI's (search) installation.

At home, Bush often points to rising test scores for Florida's students, low unemployment rates, lower taxes and lower crime.

But Democratic state Rep. Dan Gelber suggested the state has manipulated its test scores and said Florida still has a poor graduation rate. He complained that many of the jobs created during Bush's two terms are low-paying, and only the wealthy are benefiting from his tax cuts while the state struggles to pay for social programs.

"It was odd to me how much time he spent and effort trying to provide tax relief to those entities that didn't merit it," Gelber said.