Bush emerges as micromanager with heart in emails

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/11/04/bush-emerges-as-micromanager-with-heart-in-emails/

“I do not think of myself as a micromanager,” so Jeb Bush insists in his new ebook, “Reply All,” a collection of hundreds emails from his eight-year tenure as Florida’s governor.

Yet that is inevitably the portrait that emerges over the course of his 613-page compendium, released Monday. No topic seems too small to warrant the personal attention of the governor of the nation’s fourth-largest state by population.

Responding to a constituent complaint, Bush asked the state transportation chief why there are unisex bathrooms at a rest stop on Interstate 10, just west of the I-75 interchange in northern Florida. He devoted a page-long email to trying to help a St. Petersburg man resolve a dispute with a neighbor over a broken, $40 screen enclosure for his pool. One mass email instructed department heads to scrub any acronyms from their state Web pages to make them more user-friendly. “This is not some wacky and weird obsession of mine,” Bush said in concluding the message.

To his credit, Bush sometimes restrained his micro-managerial impulses. He refused to weigh in on whether there should be soda machines in a local school. And he passed on the question of when to celebrate Halloween trick-or-treating.

As a candidate and then as governor, Bush personally responded to emails from constituents, spending upwards of 30 hours a week answering over 100 of the 300 or so messages he received every day. Many of those emails and his responses are printed in full, his typos, misspellings, and other errors intentionally left uncorrected in a conspicuous attempt to convey that often-coveted modern electoral virtue, authenticity.

He appears to have tried to maintain the same responsiveness in person, once proposing 100 five-minute meetings with Florida citizens. “I know I am crazy,” he told his staff.

The release of the emails is also a not-so-subtle swipe at the leading Democratic presidential contender, Hillary Clinton – the website for his book says it was created “in the spirit of transparency.” But “Reply All: A Governor’s Story 1999-2007” does not reproduce all of Bush’s official emails. Among those missing are most that deal with private personal matters and those dealing with political strategy.

The novelty of a governor personally responding to constituent email seems to have invited a free-for-all that strayed far from matters of politics and policy. Students wrote to complain about unfair grades. One said his piano teacher smelled like a dead alligator. One constituent wrote to ask what Jeb – a nickname and an acronym – stands for. Bush’s full name is John Ellis Bush.

The exchanges often take on a Dear Abby tone.

One mother of a high school senior asked for graduation advice to pass on to her son.

“I wish I knew when I was young that life was so full of so many variables and twists and turns that my frets were not worth it. All of the things that I thought I wanted to be became less and less relevant with each turn of the corner,” Bush said in a four-paragraph response.

“Don’t be constrained by your old dreams. Be liberated by your news ones,” he concluded.

Other emails are more Dear Diary-esque.

“The biggest surprise is the volume of my voice,” Bush confided to Brian Crowley, a local political reporter, in a post-inauguration email. “I am learning to show more self-restraint so as to not restrict a free flow of thinking that could yield a better decision. That has been hard for me,” Bush said in the message, which spares no details of his first impressions of his new role and office – including comments on the size of the bathroom door in the governor’s mansion and the quality of the water pressure.

For a candidate who is sometimes perceived as more head than heart, his kinder, gentler side is on display in the emails for anyone who wades through them.

“As I read your e-mail, I started to cry,” Bush says to a single mom who told him of her struggle to pay tuition to her daughter’s parochial school. He agonizes attempting to explain how he reconciles his support for the death penalty with his Catholic faith. He tells one constituent he wishes he could have hugged Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy whose mother died trying to bring him to America in 1999 and who was sent back to his father in Cuba the next year by the Clinton Administration.

The emails also reveal a testier side to Bush. “What is there not to get?” he wrote after briefly refuting one Floridian’s criticism of an education-reform initiative.

Two of the exchanges involve Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who the governor mentored as he rose in the Tallahassee statehouse but who has become candidate Bush’s nemesis in the presidential race.

“I need to get a sword for marco,” Bush writes cryptically in one message to a staff member after Rubio’s election as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Bush explained in a note to readers: “As I had been a huge supporter of his election to the House and his election as speaker, I was thrilled. I wanted to present to him a Chinese sword, since I was known to say from time to time, ‘I am going to unleash Chang.’ This meant I wanted to unleash a mythical power for conservative causes.”

To find out if candidate Bush still responds personally to emails from strangers, a reporter sent an inquiry to both his campaign press office and general inbox, since no direct address is listed for him. So far, only an auto-generated response has been received in reply.