TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead rattled off the final words of the oath of office, which were echoed quickly by Gov. Jeb Bush. Those words, spoken before thousands of people on a clear, cool Tallahassee morning, gave Florida something it has never had before: a two-term Republican governor.
Moments later, Bush, the man who made history in November by defeating Democratic challenger Bill McBride, launched into an 15-minute inaugural address that both praised his first-term accomplishments and laid out second-term goals.
But the driving point of the speech was based on a theme that has been prevalent in both of Bush’s campaigns. The governor called on Florida to be a state centered more on community and less on government.
“(Four years ago) I said that government is not the answer; that we must build a life centered on faith, friends and family,” Bush said. “Four years later, I am more convinced than ever that if we remain true to this focus, our lives will be fulfilling and meaningful.”
Bush said he feels the love of his parents, former president George Bush and Barbara Bush, both of whom were in attendance, was the most important aspect of his development. He said compassion is the cornerstone of a strong Florida.
“What is a checklist compared to kindness? What is an agency procedure compared to compassion?” Bush asked.
It is through compassion that Bush said he wants to solve what he called the “mathematics of a tragedy.” Among those numbers are the tens of thousands of children in state custody and hundreds of thousands more not receiving child support.
“In the past, our response has been to raise more taxes, grow more government,” Bush said. “But, while these intentions may be noble, these methods are folly. Government will never fill the hollowness of the human heart. It can only be filled by a like kind substance. It can only be filled by another human heart … We should strive to shape our society through kindness and caring.”
Bush included in his mathematics the number of abortions in Florida. Bush rarely addressed abortion in his campaign, making it a virtual non issue.
Bush saved discussions of the main issues of his campaign with McBride, namely education and the economy, until late in his speech. His discussion of those topics resembled his numerous speeches during the campaign.
McBride spent much of his campaign attacking Bush for his handling of Florida’s education system, regarded as one of the worst in the country. McBride’s platform called for reduced class sizes and stronger schools. It was how to pay for these proposed changes that tripped McBride up and, in the end, was a factor in his defeat.
However, counter to McBride’s claims, Bush said in his inaugural address that education has been the “pinnacle of our achievements.”
“We have done nothing less than revolutionize education in Florida,” Bush said. “We have built a school system that is accountable to our students and parents. It has not been painless, and the protectors of the status quo have resisted every step of the way. In the end, we have prevailed, but it is our students who are achieving victory.”
Bush said he will not let the state go back to a bureaucracy he described as “indifferent to the success or failure of a child.”
Bush said his goal during the next few years is to press for a literate Florida. He wants Florida children to learn to love reading.
“And that is why we have developed a battle plan that is aggressive and bold, committing massive resources to nurture the skill that is the basis of productivity and understanding,” Bush said.
As for the economy, Bush boasted Florida’s job growth, which he said is impressive during a time of nationwide struggle. During the campaign, McBride argued that the new jobs in Florida were low-paying and low-quality.
Bush said, in his second term, he hopes not only to increase employment, but bring better jobs into the state.
Despite these goals to improve Florida, Bush said his most ambitious one remains to bring families closer together. Bush said that includes his own family, which has been marred by the substance abuse problem with which his daughter, Noelle, has struggled. Noelle was in attendance at the inauguration.
“I, for one, intend to begin with my own family,” Bush said. “Although it is an intensely private and, at times, painful matter, you should know that I have rededicated myself as a father and a husband.”
And, it is through his example and the work of other families in the state the Bush said he hopes to bring people together.
As Bush stepped off the podium and into his second four years in office, he said he wants the state to demand “excellence, not adequacy” and to work for “the individual, not the government.”
Bush, the last governor of the previous century and the first of the current, said he wants to make a lasting impact in his second term.
“Today, I want you to consider how we may, in the next four years, shape the hundred years (to come),” he said.