TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Newly released documents reveal that Jeb Bush offered incoming Gov. Rick Scott a long list of "lessons learned through trial and error" that touched on everything from how to deal with those guarding his safety to telling him it was "OK to veto stupid bills."
In emailed documents obtained by The Associated Press after they had been kept out of public view for months, the former two-term Florida governor urged Scott prior to his swearing-in to push for universal private school vouchers, save money by releasing elderly prisoners and close down one of the state pension plans.
Bush also suggested that his fellow Republican consider selling off the state's virtual school, eliminate state money for some university programs and look at taxing online sales as part of a swap to lower other taxes. Some of the initiatives suggested by Bush were passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature this past spring.
"Take them for what they are...a desire that you succeed," Bush wrote in one email to Scott that was sent around New Year's Day. Scott, a former health care executive who had never held office, was sworn-in Jan. 4.
Scott didn't respond immediately to calls for comment Wednesday. But records show that he forwarded Bush's emails, including two attached memos, to his top transition adviser.
Bush's suggestions were included in a batch of emails recovered recently by a member of Scott's transition team. The private company handling email for Scott's transition office shut down the email accounts in January, but it wasn't publicly known until this month that the emails had been deleted. Last week, Scott ordered an investigation into why the accounts were closed and whether the state could recover emails written by himself and other members of his senior staff between the time of his election and his inauguration.
Bush, who was Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007, remains extremely popular, particularly among state Republicans. He emailed Scott two documents, one called "Ideas for Governor Scott'" and the other called "Scott inauguration."
Showing a bit of candor that he has avoided publicly since leaving the governor's office, Bush noted that he tried to share similar advice with Gov. Charlie Crist, who succeeded Bush. Crist, who began his term as a Republican, left after one term to mount an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate last year as an independent after it became clear he would lose the GOP primary.
"You didn't ask for this, but it is the 'standard envelope in the desk of the new guy,'" wrote Bush. "To be honest I did the same thing for Governor Crist but he did nothing I suggested, so with the risk of being presumptuous, I am trying again."
At the end of the list, Bush added that if Scott wanted to "seek counsel from the old guy, I will be there for you. If you don't, I won't be offended. If you do, you can ignore my advice and likewise, I won't be offended. My commitment to you is that whatever we speak about will be confidential."
The "lessons" Bush shared included a suggestion that the new governor work with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents guarding him. Bush, who did not elaborate, said Crist and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles put the agents in "difficult positions by rejecting their involvement in their private lives."
Chiles was in the final days of his term as governor when he died in December 1998 from an abnormal heart beat while exercising at the governor's mansion. His body was not discovered for several hours because he was in a private recreation area.
Crist told the AP on Wednesday that he did not know what Bush was talking about. He said that the only time he did not have FDLE agents with him was on "occasions" when he would go fishing.
Bush also advised Scott to make sure that first lady Ann Scott has someone helping her and that "her cause should be your cause."
He reminded Scott that the "Legislature's agenda becomes yours" when state lawmakers end their annual session. "Both the good and the bad will be yours in the eyes of Floridians. It is OK to veto stupid bills. Trust me, legislators get over it," he wrote. Bush also urged Scott to "own" and "dominate" the annual budget because it's the "path to good policy."
The list of initiatives offered by Bush that were passed this year by the Legislature includes shifting Medicaid patients into managed care and expanding the use of online education in public schools. Scott had already said he supported those ideas during the campaign.
Bush called the state pension plan that guarantees benefits to employees based on their salary and years of service "doomed." Scott tried unsuccessfully to persuade lawmakers to shut this pension plan down and shift new hires into one that paid them on how well their investments perform.
But the former governor also recommended that Scott push ahead with "education savings accounts" or a form of universal private school vouchers. Under the plan, students from kindergarten through high school would get vouchers of a to-be-determined amount that they could use to offset private school tuition. Critics say such proposals would undermine public schools, while Bush and other proponents argue that it would give parents choice, improve education and save the state money in the long run by putting more students in private schools.
Bush acknowledged such a move would probably lead to legal challenges. As governor, Bush helped create a voucher program for students at poor performing public schools that was thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court. Scott said during the campaign he favored voucher programs but he didn't push it this year.
"I am guessing lawyers inside Tallahassee will say that it is not constitutional," wrote Bush. "I don't know how our court will respond but it will be a game changer for the country and you might have the chance to change the makeup of the court."
Bush added that Scott should look at releasing older prisoners who have already served a long time, saying they cost extra money and are unlikely to commit crimes. He said that Scott should slash funding for university institutes and force them to seek private funding because they are not "part of the direct mission" of higher education.
He recommended that Scott consider selling the Florida Virtual School, which offers online classes to students, saying that while it makes significant money it could make "more in the private sector. "You could use the proceeds to fund a technology initiative that would lead the nation," Bush wrote.
Bush, who pushed for deep tax cuts while he was governor, also told Scott that one way to keep his promise of eliminating the state's corporate income tax was to "review the potential of taxing online sales."Comment on this story
"It seems to me there has to be a way to tax sales done online in the same way that sales are taxed in brick and mortar establishments," he wrote. "My guess is that there would be hundreds of millions of dollars that then could be used to reduce taxes to fulfill campaign promises."
Bush, in an emailed response to the AP, said it is a tradition for former governors to send letters to the incoming governor and he commended Scott and the legislative leadership for their actions so far "in the midst of a challenging economy."
"They accepted the challenges with a vision for the future and as a result passed policies that will strengthen Florida's future," Bush wrote. "If the policy ideas I sent played a role in the conversations and decisions, I am flattered."