Jeb Bush on Crime

Former Republican FL Governor


Conflicted about death penalty; needs reform

Q: Have you changed your mind on the death penalty?

BUSH: I'm conflicted. I am. It was the law of the land when I was governor, and I faithfully dealt with it. To be honest with you, it is not a deterrent anymore because it's seldom used. It clogs up the courts, it costs a ton of money. And it's hard for me, as a human being, to sign the death warrant, to be honest with you. I'm informed by my faith in many things, and this is one of them. So I have to admit that I'm conflicted about this. But we should reform it. If it's to be used as a deterrent, it has to be reformed. It can't take 25 years. That does no one any good. Neither the victims nor the state is solving this problem with that kind of tangled judicial process.

Source: Meet the Press 2015 interview moderated by Chuck Todd , Nov 1, 2015

Death penalty a tough call, but victims' families benefit

It's hard for me, as a human being, to sign the death warrant, to be honest with you. I'm informed by my faith in many things, and this is one of them. I must admit that I'm conflicted about this. But here's the deal -- this happens in rare cases where the death penalty's given out and you meet family members that have lost a loved one and it's still in their heart. It's etched in their soul. And this is the way that they get closure? I get more comfortable with it, to be honest with you. I believe life is truly a gift from God, and innocent life particularly should be protected at all costs. But people that really do commit these crimes, justice can't be denied. And it shouldn't be delayed.
Source: Washington Post on 2015 presidential hopefuls , Nov 1, 2015

1994: build more prisons; serve longer sentences

As Bush crisscrossed Florida in the summer of 1994, he promised to build more prisons and ensure that convicts served at least 85% of their original prison sentences before they were paroled. In the cases of juvenile offenders, Bush told the Sentinel that it was time to "emphasize punishment over therapy."

One of Bush's central themes during the 1994 campaign was his desire to streamline the execution process for death row inmates. In order to do this, he proposed limiting death row inmates to only one appeal with the state, a measure he hoped would speed up the state's execution process. Bush named his plan "one trial, one appeal," and released it in the spring of 1994.

Enacting the "one trial, one appeal" plan would have required Florida voters to approve an amendment to the state's constitution, but this hurdle didn't dissuade Bush. In November, he reiterated his goal, saying, "I want to accelerate, not slow down, the enforcement of the death penalty in Florida."

Source: New York Times 2015 interview of 2016 presidential hopefuls , Jan 11, 2015

1990s: punishment over therapy; 2010s: that hardens people

Bush once called for building prisons and emphasizing "punishment over therapy" for juvenile offenders. Today, he supports reforming the criminal justice system, arguing that incarceration can harden low-level lawbreakers into career criminals.

Bush "does not flip-flop," a Bush adviser said. "He learns. When he learns, he changes." Bush was particularly influenced by the experience of governing: he suddenly had access to measurements of what worked, and what did not, on issues like juvenile justice

Source: New York Times 2015 interview of 2016 presidential hopefuls , Jan 11, 2015

Symbol of crime needs a human face on it

Many political observers say that a particularly offensive Bush TV ad was the turning point of the campaign. The ad featured a mother whose 10-year-old daughter had been murdered in 1980, 14 years prior to the campaign. The killer had been sentenced to death but never executed, because of appeals. The victim's mother said that her daughter's killer "is still on death row and we're still waiting for justice." She then said, "We won't get it from Lawton Chiles because he's too liberal on crime."

The ad, personally approved by Jeb, proved to be a disaster for his campaign. Chiles attacked Jeb directly for it: "All my political life I have supported the death penalty, as governor I have executed 8 men." He wagged his finger at Jeb and said: "You knew [the ad] was false. And I am ashamed that you would use the loss of a mother in an ad like this."

Bush "seemed flustered by the force of Chiles's words and responded weakly that the symbol of crime needs a human face on it."

Source: Aggressive Conservatism in Florida, by Robert Crew, p. 8 , Dec 11, 2009

Passed Habitual Offender Accountability Act

Bush's first campaign against Lawton Chiles was dominated by his efforts to appeal to the "tough on crime" constituency and to portray his opponent as "soft."

Governor Bush continued to focus support for "get tough on crime" laws. These include a variety of mandatory sentencing laws such as the 10-20-Life Act, the Three Strikes Violent Felony Offender Act, and the Habitual Offender Accountability Act, all passed in the glow of Bush's 1st-term victory. Despite evidence that the 10-20-Life law had no effect on the state's crime rate (Stoddard, 2006) Bush continued into his last year in office to cite these laws as some of the primary accomplishments of his administration.

Source: Aggressive Conservatism in Florida, by Robert Crew, p. 72-73 , Dec 11, 2009

We are not safe; not in our homes, not anywhere

Among the Republican "base" in the South, it's understood what's really meant. Welfare and crime are code for: blacks are destroying our society.

Jeb understood exactly what he was doing as he was doing it. With crime, for example, statistics showed that the problem was on the decline by the mid-1990s with the improvement in the economy.

"People's fear is heightened beyond what is reasonable," Jeb told the "St. Petersburg Times" in November 1993. So did that keep him from using that fear to his advantage? Not hardly.

"The simple fact is we are not safe. Not in our homes.not anywhere," Jeb said in a speech officially kicking off his campaign a month earlier. And in December, he would tell campaign audiences: "People now cannot walk on their streets without fear of crime!"

Source: America's Next Bush, by S.V. Date, p. 98 , Feb 15, 2007

1994 TV ad: My opponent won't push electric chair

Jeb's demise started when his team taped a television commercial designed to hit Lawton Chiles on the issue of crime. The theme was all the rage for Republicans back in 1994, when they had successfully pushed the idea that they stood for crime victims while their Democratic opponents supported criminals' rights. Jeb's new spot would feature the mother of a murdered child who had reached out to Jeb because of his desire to shorten the appeals process for condemned killers.

From the outset, the idea edged toward the boundaries of bad taste: to take advantage of a mother's grief. Nevertheless, Jeb's team thought they had a tough but fair ad. It essentially accused Lawton Chiles of not doing enough to send the killer to the electric chair.

Within days, though, Jeb had to concede that there was nothing Chiles could have done to expedite the death sentence. (In fact, at the time this book went to press, Jeb also had been unable to bring about the killer 's demise; he is alive & well on Death Row.)

Source: America's Next Bush, by S.V. Date, p.112-113 , Feb 15, 2007

Called special legislative session for death penalty law

When he miscalculated on how many votes were necessary to rewrite rules for the court system in the death penalty special session, he turned to the Republican Party's stable of rich donors to send private [police] out to retrieve missing GOP legislators. One was dragged away from a pregnant wife on the brink of childbirth, another from his sister's funeral.

The reaction to this style of leadership varied, and was not always predictable.

To many, even in the much-reviled press, Jeb was a breath of fresh air. He said what he was going to do, and then he did it, without the mealymouthed games that are so common among elected officials.

Source: America's Next Bush, by S.V. Date, p.131 , Feb 15, 2007

Building private prisons would save 15%-20% of state costs

In his unsuccessful 1994 run, Jeb promised to build more prisons, but to do it at a substantially lower cost than [his opponents' plans]. Jeb based his estimate on the assumption that building private prisons would save 15% and operating them would save 20% against what the state would spend. Not 2% or 3%, not 5%, not even 10%. A full 15% and 20%.

Why did he think this was possible? Well, there was no empirical evidence, other than his deep-seated faith that government is inherently wasteful and that private businesses are inherently both competent and efficient.

Did Jeb really believe that the Department of Corrections staff was so inept that it gave out 15% more on construction contracts than it needed to? Did he think that the prison system, which in 1994 was already overstretched and paying some of the lower wages in state government, was bloated by a full 1/5?

Source: America's Next Bush, by S.V. Date, p.158-159 , Feb 15, 2007

Make sure criminals serve at least 85% of their jail time

Jeb returned to Florida, where he was already the presumed GOP front-runner for the 1998 gubernatorial race. He continued working with state Republican leaders on issues ranging from "truth in sentencing" laws--making sure criminals serve at least 85% of their jail time--to promoting charter school education around the state. Speaker of the Florida House John Thrasher noticed that Jeb was so active, so visible, and so effective at shaping legislation that he was like a "phantom governor."
Source: My Father, My President, by Doro Koch Bush, p.456 , Oct 6, 2006

I'm a hang-'em-by-the-neck conservative

He told his father he wanted to run for the US Senate in 1986, but his father persuaded him to wait just as he was gearing up for his own presidential run. Now, George told his son that he needed him in Florida. Jeb, who idolized his father, knew that this was George's last and best chance to become President.

As chairman of Dade County GOP, Jeb frequently called his father for political favors, and in 1986 he asked George to come to Florida to campaign for Bob Martinez, the Republican candidate for governor.

Jeb's hard-right politics--"I'm a hang-'em-by-the-neck conservative"--and his vociferous support of the contras appealed to his father and boosted Jeb's popularity in the conservative, anti-Communist Hispanic community of Dade County. Jeb's access to fabulously wealthy Cubans made him invaluable to his father's political staff as they prepared their 1988 run for the Bush presidency.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.409 , Sep 14, 2004

Adopted Three-Strike Violent Felony Offender Act

Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature have worked together to adopt public-safety reforms such as 10-20-Life, the Three-Strike Violent Felony Offender Act, and the Habitual Juvenile Offender Accountability Act. These initiatives and related laws passed in 1995-1997 have successfully reversed the lenient criminal-justice policies of the early 1990s. Thanks to the dedicated work of professional local and state law enforcement, the Governor’s leadership and the Legislature’s criminal-justice policies, Florida’s 2000, “Index Crime” rate was the lowest in 28 years. The 2000 index-crime rate, based on murder, forcible sex, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, dropped 18% since January 1, 1999. This two-year decline in index-crime rates is the lowest ever recorded by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Source: Governor’s web site, www.MyFlorida.com, “Initiatives” , Nov 7, 2001

10-20-Life: Increase mandatory minimum sentences

Source: Governor’s web site, www.MyFlorida.com, “Initiatives” , Nov 7, 2001

Fewer death-row appeals; faster executions

Jeb Bush decided to run for governor in 1994, vanquishing competition in the Republican primary and leading in polls during most of the fall. He called for fewer appeals for death row inmates and speedier executions, said Florida should withdraw from Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replace it with limited temporary assistance, and called for school choice and demanded voter approval of all state and local tax increases.
Source: National Journal, the Almanac of American Politics , Jan 28, 2000

Longer prison terms for gun-toting criminals

In his first 100 days, Bush’s legislative agenda met with stunning success. He canceled a plan for a high speed Miami-Orlando train, but passed a school voucher plan, got longer prison terms for gun-toting criminals, and instituted a $1 billion tax break.
Source: National Journal, the Almanac of American Politics , Jan 28, 2000

Build more prisons; private contracts OK

Source: 1998 Florida National Political Awareness Test , Jul 2, 1998

Alternative sentencing & rehabiliation acceptable

Source: 1998 Florida National Political Awareness Test , Jul 2, 1998

Supports death penalty

Source: 1998 Florida National Political Awareness Test , Jul 2, 1998

Stricter penalties for drug, sex, & gun offenses

Source: 1998 Florida National Political Awareness Test , Jul 2, 1998

Heinous crimes no longer news: exposure lowers norms

Because of increased exposure to the strange or abnormal, we consciously lower the parameters of what we tolerate as acceptable behavior. Consider the extensive coverage of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre, involving the killing of 7 gangsters during Prohibition. In contrast, in a recent drug execution in which 3 people were slain, the story appeared only in the second section of the newspaper, at the bottom of the page. The contrast demonstrates not our approval of violent crime, but rather our trivialization of such crime, our growing accustomed to violent acts or other kinds of behavior that skirt the bounds of decency.

Crime is no longer outrageous to us. We do not put the routine stories of heinous behavior on the front page anymore because they are no longer abnormal. Only the truly outrageous makes the front page. These journalistic decisions should be taken as a warning. Do we now treat our societal dysfunctions as if they were only part of a TV show, surrealistic & out of reach?

Source: Profiles in Character, by Jeb Bush & B.Yablonski, p. 39-41 , Nov 1, 1995

Supports flexible federal block grants for crime programs.

Bush adopted the National Governors Association position paper:

The Issue

NGA’s Position

Source: National Governors Association "Issues / Positions" 01-NGA10 on Sep 14, 2001

Other candidates on Crime: Jeb Bush on other issues:
Former Presidents/Veeps:
George W. Bush (R,2001-2009)
V.P.Dick Cheney
Bill Clinton (D,1993-2001)
V.P.Al Gore
George Bush Sr. (R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan (R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter (D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford (R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon (R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson (D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy (D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower (R,1953-1961)
Harry_S_TrumanHarry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Religious Leaders:
New Testament
Old Testament
Pope Francis

Political Thinkers:
Noam Chomsky
Milton Friedman
Arianna Huffington
Rush Limbaugh
Tea Party
Ayn Rand
Secy.Robert Reich
Joe Scarborough
Gov.Jesse Ventura
Civil Rights
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Social Security
Tax Reform

Page last updated: Oct 27, 2021