Jeb Bush & Race Equality: Politics Over Principle

Jeb Bush’s just-disclosed email communications while Florida’s governor (1999 – 2007) demonstrate a disturbing, but too-common ‘politician approach’ to dealing with racial equality and affirmative action.


In the emails, Bush describes his concern that a possible voter initiative in 2000 to end race preferences in state government hiring, contracting and public university admissions would be a “distraction” and “divisive”. He pledged to “do my part as governor to fight against it”.


Bush claimed to oppose race quotas and, indeed, issued an executive order in 2000 restricting some affirmative action policies while ordering Florida’s “state procurement officials to strive harder to award more business to minority contractors”.


The emails paint an unflattering portrait of a governor who claims to oppose race preferences, but considers citizens seeking to ban them through a petition drive as divisive extremists. Bush describes his watered-down initiative that restricted some race preference policies as tactical and necessary to preempt the looming citizen petition effort.


Jeb Bush isn’t the first politician who hoped to duck the issue of racial preferences: Michigan’s 2006 Republican gubernatorial nominee, Dick DeVos outright opposed the 2006 voter-initiated race preference ban and other elected officials have done the same. Some try to have it both ways by claiming to oppose quotas but denouncing efforts to end them. ┬áSort of like representatives in congress railing against the budget deficit while opposing any spending cuts.


Jeb Bush released his emails to help his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Instead, they muddle his claim to moral leadership. Thankfully, voters have much more moral clarity: voters in five states – California, Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington an Oklahoma – overwhelming passed bans on race preference policies. New Hampshire did so legislatively. The US Supreme Court upheld these comprehensive and “extremist” voters this past April.


Leadership doesn’t always come from holding political office, and private citizens who support a civil society free of government race discrimination often must take the lead ending such policies. ┬áJeb Bush can do better than describing these citizens as extremists or divisive because they are willing to lead when government officials seek safety in the moral fog.


- Jennifer Gratz