The email that a Los Angeles Times reporter sent to Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in April 2006 asked how his early years in Midland, Tex., had shaped him. Attached was an article the reporter had written about the immigration policies of Mr. Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush.
Jeb Bush’s lengthy response had little to say about Midland, but he did have a lot to say about immigration:
“My wife came here legally but it hurts her as badly as it hurts me when people give the perception that all immigrants are bad,” Mr. Bush wrote. “That becomes the impression by the press accounts. It is crazy and wrong.”
The tone of the message, and the mention of Columba, his wife, was so unlike what a reporter typically hears from a politician that the reporter, Peter Wallsten (now an editor at The Washington Post), wrote back to make sure that the email was on the record. The reply: “I don’t do off the record, Peter. You know that.”
Conversations with reporters contained in the archive of Jeb Bush’s emails from his time as governor show a politician comfortable not only with using what was then a relatively new technology as a tool of governing, but also with discussing policy. Mr. Bush, who has said he is exploring a 2016 presidential run, would be one of the front-runners for the Republican nomination. He seems to enjoy holding back-and-forths with familiar journalists on controversial subjects like immigration and the prospect of financial incentives for public school teachers.
Mr. Bush’s responses to reporters who emailed him (he very rarely started such conversations) were often short and displayed a dry wit. He used the opportunity to press the case for policies that were often seen as divisive by political opponents and to prod journalists into seeking out more information. Sometimes, as he did on the subject of immigration, Mr. Bush had a chance to make the political personal.
Many Republican presidential candidates have been wary of the mainstream media and have tried to avoid reporters. Mr. Bush was different. Howard Troxler, a former columnist for The St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Bush was “the most accessible chief executive I have ever dealt with, hands down,” adding, “You could always tempt him with a policy question.” Mr. Troxler, who frequently disagreed with Mr. Bush, said he was often surprised by how quickly Mr. Bush replied to his emails, given his responsibilities. “He used it like breathing,” he said.
The debate over immigration in 2006 is a good example of Mr. Bush’s approach. Although the issue was not as charged as it is today, Mr. Bush was a robust defender of a more open immigration system and criticized conservatives who backed restrictions on immigration. “The notion that we would felonize folks that have been here and that are contributing to our progress is just plain wrong,” he wrote to Mr. Wallsten in the same 2006 email.
His emails about immigration to the public and political associates are mainly perfunctory, asking staff members to look into constituents’ issues or expressing support for border security as a first step before providing legal certainty for guest workers and millions of undocumented people. But in his April 4, 2006, email to Mr. Wallsten, Mr. Bush invoked both his wife and the positive contributions of immigrants to Florida, which are “part of the reason of why we are a model in many ways about what America, in all its greatness, is going to be.” Just a week later, he directed an aide to remove a reference to his wife from the draft of an op-ed article on the topic.
The emails are part of a collection released in late December by Florida and have been posted on a site controlled by Mr. Bush.
Conversations with reporters make up a small portion of the tens of thousands of emails written during Mr. Bush’s eight years in office, but they were sometimes more substantive than many of his email communications with his staff. They also give some insight into his bona fides as a conservative.
For example, Mr. Bush regularly tried to change the thinking of Florida reporters and columnists on education. He tried gently persuading them with a series of rhetorical questions; he felt rewarding high-performing teachers and school administrators not only made sense but also posed little threat to teachers unions. In an exchange with Mr. Troxler, the columnist, Mr. Bush made his case: “Who can deny that there are great teachers and mediocre ones? Every parent knows this. We are not threatening the collective bargaining process. We are simply saying that there should be additional rewards above and beyond for a job well done. So, if we can find a fair way to enhance pay for those special teachers while we are increasing all teachers pay, why is this such a bad deal?”
Mr. Bush was not above chiding a reporter. He wrote his email after Mr. Troxler wrote a column without asking the governor or the State Department of Education for comment. Mr. Bush ended it with a nudge for better treatment: “Now that you got our information, and you have to get comments from the union,” he wrote. “Maybe in the future, you should make it reciprocal before you write.”
Mr. Bush also used the opportunities to try to explain to reporters, mostly from Florida, his concerns that the news media, which he saw as mostly liberal, was detached from a part of American society.
Two days after the 2004 election in which his brother won a second term, Mr. Bush traded emails with Lucy Morgan, the longtime Tallahassee bureau chief of The St. Petersburg Times. He was clearly struck by a column by Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute about the distance between most journalists and “working class and rural Americans attracted to George W. Bush.”
Mr. Bush wrote that it was a problem for journalism: “I think it is a complete misunderstanding about the things that make many people tick. Going to church, abhorring what is on television, worrying about how kids view the world through the lens of the culture expressed through the media, a respect for traditional marriage, etc. These are concepts that are viewed in the media as weird, old fashioned or narrow minded. The Europeans don’t understand it which can be explained. The fact that mainstream journalism doesn’t understand it is a problem.”
Mr. Bush had fewer lengthy conversations with national reporters, at least those who hadn’t once worked in Florida. In May 2006, when Julie Mason, then a Houston Chronicle reporter, emailed to ask for an interview during a trip to Florida, she noted that she had heard he wasn’t doing national press interviews and that perhaps The New York Times was to blame. Mr. Bush’s reply: “I am not doing national press interviews and it is not because of The New York Times. It is because I am focused on my job. I hope you enjoy your stay in the Sunshine State.”
Original article here.