TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former President George H.W. Bush came here Monday to talk about leadership and opened his remarks with advice on working with rivals, being patient and building personal relationships.
He then broke down in tears mentioning his son, Gov. Jeb Bush, as an example of leadership and the way he handled losing the 1994 governor's race to popular incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles. He vaguely referred to dirty tricks in the campaign.
"He didn't whine about it. He didn't complain," the former president said before choking up in front of lawmakers, Gov. Bush's top administrators and state workers gathered in the House chamber for the last of the governor's leadership forums.
As he tried to continue, he let out a sob and put a handkerchief to his face. When he spoke again, his words were broken up by pauses as he tried to regain composure.
In 1994, Jeb Bush appeared to be on his way to victory. The final debate between Chiles and Bush is largely seen as the turning point in the closest governor's race in state history. But just before the election, the Chiles campaign made 70,000 bogus phone calls to elderly voters claiming to be from independent groups. Callers portrayed Bush as a tax cheat and said his running mate, Tom Feeney, wanted to abolish Social Security and cut Medicare.
"A true measure of a man is how you handle victory and how you handle defeat, so in '94 Floridians chose to rehire the governor. They took note of a his worthy opponent, who showed with not only words but with actions what decency he had," Bush said before again sobbing.
After his defeat, Jeb Bush formed a group called Foundation for Florida's Future which promoted education policy. He also helped open a charter school in a poor Miami neighborhood, helped the state Republican Party organize a convention and straw poll to have sway in the 1996 presidential election and lobbied for education and campaign finance reform bills. Bush then won the first of his two terms in 1998.
"The moral of the story is to serve with honor and your governor has served with honor," the former president said.
"I'm the emotional one," Bush said later. "I don't enjoy breaking up, but when you talk about somebody you love, when you get older, you do it more."
The former president also answered questions for about a half hour.
When asked about the vision for his grandchildren, he said neither he nor his wife are pushing them toward politics or running for public office.
"But I hope that they will, I hope quite a few of them will," he said before pausing and joking about the current President Bush's daughters. "I'm not sure I'd count on the twins doing this — Jenna and Barbara — but they're full of life and they might."
Six years ago, when the twins were 19, they were charged with underage drinking in an Austin, Texas bar.
"They've calmed way down," their grandfather said. "They're doing great."
He also talked about his recent closeness to former President Clinton and some of the work they've done to help Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims.
"I apologized to him in Philadelphia the other day. I said, 'Bill, I take it back. My dog Millie did not know more about foreign policy than you do.' And he was very understanding," Bush said before turning serious. "It isn't about politics, it's about trying to do something bigger than ourselves, trying to help people who are devastated and need our support."
He then recalled a political cartoon showing his son the president opposing gay marriage and then walking into a room and finding his father on a sofa with Clinton's arm around him, prompting him to shout, "Dad! What are you doing?"
"(Clinton) cut it out of the paper and said, 'Don't you think we ought to cool it George?"' Bush said.