Jewish World Review April 19, 2002 /8 Iyar, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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What makes Reno run? | ORLANDO The Florida Democrats who held their state party convention here last weekend were fired up by one desire - to rid the Sunshine State of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in this fall's election.

Quite aside from the presidential election fiasco in 2000, in which the Democrats here strongly suspect chicanery on his part in the disputed awarding of Florida's electoral votes to his brother George, the state's Democrats have been taking dead aim at him.

Florida black and Latino voters particularly are on his case for ending affirmative action in public education admissions. One of the highlights at the party convention was a video showing demonstrators at the State Capitol, where they temporarily conducted a sit-in, and Bush telling an aide: "Throw their asses out." It won't be surprising to see the video clip in a Democratic television commercial in the fall.

But the biggest vulnerability the Democrats see in Bush is his early promise to be "the education governor" for a state whose public school system ranks deplorably low. A Bush budget claiming an increase for education has been torn apart by Florida newspapers, reporting it amounts to just 2 cents a day per pupil.

At the convention, the Democrats also were touting Florida Education Association statistics showing the state had dropped from 39th in the country in per capita spending on education to 49th under the Bush administration.

The Democratic yearning to oust the president's younger brother has produced a bumper crop of five gubernatorial candidates for the Sept.10 primary, of whom former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is the best-known to most voters.

Beyond her eight years in the Bill Clinton cabinet, she is a five-time elected states' attorney in Florida. She leads the other Democrats in the polls but trails Bush by 17 percent, and is a most unlikely looking gubernatorial candidate, awkward as a public speaker and glad-hander.

In her speech before the state party convention here, she talked in generalities and platitudes, offering no specifics about how she would finance the programs she would push to improve Florida public education.

"The governor says I don't give any specifics," she said, noting instead that in her 25 years of public service she has appointed "people who know what they're doing" and got them the resources they needed to do their jobs. "I have made the hard, hard, hard decisions," she said. "The people know that the buck stops here."

It was mild stuff, but her band of sign-pumping supporters interrupted with cheers. In the corridors, she walked through the crowds slowly with a soft smile, more in the manner of a kindly queen mother than a hustler for votes.

Reno's lack of programmatic details did not seem too significant before the state convention. Her principal rival for the Democratic nomination, Bill McBride, a decorated Vietnam war officer and self-made business success, was also being criticized for similarly lacking details on how he would pay for his education agenda.

On the eve of the convention, however, McBride announced plans to seek a new tax on cigarettes of 50 cents a pack, saying it would generate more than $1 billion to finance smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries. Her own solution was that she had managed with budget shortages in her previous jobs, and would again.

"People ask why I run," Reno said at the conclusion of her convention speech, her hands trembling from the Parkinson's Disease that doesn't seem otherwise to affect her. "They say your hands shake. My hands shake but my heart and my head are steady."

One delegate, Wendy Grassi of Planned Parenthood in Sarasota, said Reno's shaking "is awful, but it's not that so much. I don't know why she thinks she can be governor," with the lack of specifics about what's she'd do in the job.

But Janet Reno presses on with the same grittiness that marked her tenure as the longest-serving U.S. attorney general ever.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

04/17/02: Dems' open season on Bush
04/15/02: Election reform at hand
04/12/02: Bush's vacillations
04/10/02: Gubernatorial olympics in Massachusetts
04/08/02: N.H.: Another political third rail
04/01/02: Energy: corporate or political scandal?
03/27/02: Targeting the Federal Election Commission
03/25/02: Campaign finance reform irony
03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
03/15/02: Gore re-enters the arena
03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
02/19/02: Just a beginning on campaign finance reform'
02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
02/06/02: The Bush budget: Reality replaces poetry
02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
02/01/02: Bush keeps Dems on ropes
01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
01/21/02: In search of Tom Ridge
01/18/02: Kennedy takes on the tax fight
01/16/02: On the departure of high government officials
01/11/02: The lobbyist as party chairman
01/07/02: Torricelli's clean bill of health
12/12/01: The elevated vice presidency
12/07/01: September 11th and December 7th
12/05/01: Another children's crusade
12/03/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/30/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/28/01: More Justice Department folly
11/26/01: Ashcroft still under fire
11/21/01: Normalcy vs. security at the White House
11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
11/07/01: The blame game on airport security
11/05/01: Bellwether gubernatorial elections?
11/02/01: Feingold's complaint
10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
10/29/01: Show business on economic stimulus
10/26/01: No political business as usual
10/24/01: Senatorial bravado
10/22/01: Split decision on gun rights
10/16/01: New York mayor's race: What kind of experience?
10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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