He told us so

http://www.gainesvillesun.com/EDITS/articles/2001-08-31edit1.shtml Friday, August 31, 2001

Sun Editorial: He told us so By WRITER NAME HERE Sun staff writer

Thank goodness Jeb Bush is a politician. Otherwise, his arm might not be nearly long enough to reach around and pat himself on the back.

"I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so," Gov. Bush gushed on Wednesday, in the wake of a federal appeals court decision throwing out the University of Georgia's affirmative action plan.

"Had we not implemented One Florida, we would have had utter chaos," Bush added.

Not only is Bush eager to pat himself on the back, the ink on the court's decision was hardly dry before the governor's PR machine was cranking up to lead the cheers.

Here at The Sun we received an e-mail from Bush's communications director wanting to know if we were going to write an editorial to praise Bush for "reading the legal tea leaves."

So not wanting to disappoint, here's our reading on Gov. Bush's bold move to save Florida from "utter chaos" in the face of crumbling legal support for affirmative action.

We give the governor an A (what the heck, we'll be generous and make it an A-plus) for foresight. And a D for leadership.

Granted, Bush's One Florida initiative to eliminate race as a factor in university admissions might well have warded off an unfavorable legal outcome (although it should be acknowledged that various appellate courts have ruled differently, and the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't yet settled the question).

But what's debatable is whether Bush averted chaos or courted chaos in the manner in which he created and implemented One Florida.

The demonstrations and sit-ins that greeted his plan certainly bespoke of a failure on the governor's part to build any sort of consensus for his plan.

To the contrary, Bush alienated a great number of African-Americans and, in the process, helped a badly splintered and demoralized state Democratic Party energize and rebuild its minority base. If he loses his bid for re-election next year, it will likely be on the strength of an angry backlash by black voters.

The problem with One Florida all along was that Bush delivered it as though he were Moses bringing the stone tablets down from the mountain.

A more prudent leader might have made an honest attempt to bring all parties to the table - including African-American leaders and, yes, even Democrats - told them "Affirmative action is legally unsupportable. What can we do to maintain diversity without racially preferential admissions policies?" and then worked with them to write a plan that participants could have taken ownership of.

Instead, One Florida emerged whole cloth from the bowels of the governor's office (for all we know, it was written on the back of a cocktail napkin, just like Bush's new educational governance system).

Critics were told to "take it or leave it." One Florida was rammed through the Board of Regents with very little attempt to build consensus or mollify critics.

Will One Florida do what it's supposed to do and maintain diversity? It's too early to tell yet, but the initial results, at least at the University of Florida, are not all that promising.

This fall, black enrollment at UF is down to less than 7 percent, from 12 percent the previous year.

"You can talk about what may happen in the future ... but would you want to be a black freshman at the University of Florida this year?" state Rep. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked reporters this week. "It's a lonely feeling."

Perhaps the guts of One Florida - namely a provision that guarantees university admission to the top 20 percent of Florida high school graduating classes - really will have the effect of promoting diversity over the long run. (Although some critics consider One Florida just another variation of the affirmative action theme).

Still, one can only wonder about the opportunity Bush squandered. How much better or more universally accepted might One Florida have been if it had been a creature of consensus rather than a monument to one rookie governor's stubborn arrogance?

So we'll hold off on the back patting for now. Heck, Gov. Bush is doing a pretty good job of that himself. Bush's claim to have avoided chaos notwithstanding, we suspect the final chapter of Florida's experience with affirmative action has yet to be written.

And it may not be written by a court, but rather by the voters.

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