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A Week with Jeb Bush

January 30, 2017

Jeb Bush teaching in a classroom

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush teaching at the Bush School in January

A day-by-day account of the ten-day course entitled Governors in the State, Nation, and World, taught by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Day 1: Friday

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush kicked off the class with a hearty “howdy” on Friday, January 6. 

The day began with a lecture and discussion with former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. Barbour and Bush took questions from the class and spoke on their respective experiences governing through times of crisis, including Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

After Barbour’s visit, students heard from Danny Diaz, Bush’s campaign manager for his 2016 presidential bid, and Kathleen Shanahan, Bush’s former chief of staff. Both spoke to the class of sixty about running gubernatorial campaigns and the roles and responsibilities of a governor and state government.

Upon breaking for lunch, the class divided into small groups tasked with solving a major issue faced by a governor in recent years. Topics included the passage of a 2012 Arizona immigration law, the 2016 Flint water crisis, and the ongoing budget negotiations in Illinois. The groups were directed to apply lessons learned in class to their individual challenge and to present their findings on the last day of the course.

The day’s class concluded with a video message from Bush’s brother and former US President George W. Bush. President Bush spoke on his experience as governor of Texas and the challenges he faced working with the legislature.  Governor Bush informed the class that other state governors would also deliver video addresses throughout the course before dismissing students for the weekend.

Day 2: Monday

Monday’s class focused on a governor’s role with the state legislature and state judicial system. Students were given the opportunity to hear from former President of the Florida Senate and Lt. Governor Toni Jennings and Raquel “Rocky” A. Rodriguez, who served as general counsel to Governor Bush and currently serves as the elected chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

Before hearing from the impressive guest speakers, Bush discussed his efforts to address drug and alcohol abuse while governor. This led to a conversation on the recent opioid epidemic impacting states across the country. Bush invited students to suggest state policy solutions and provided feedback on their ideas. The discussion highlighted the intricacies within drug and law enforcement policy.

Throughout the day, students continued to hear from past governors via video message. One video featured former North Carolina Governor James Hunt, who served four terms from 1977 to 1985 and again from1993 to 2001. Hunt discussed his long career and explained how he formed relationships with the state legislature to support his policy efforts. 

Forming relationships with legislators was also the theme of the day’s other video, which featured commentary from a multitude of governors. In addition to former Governor Hunt, former Governors Mitt Romney (MA), Mike Huckabee (AR), and Tom Ridge (PA and first secretary of homeland security) weighed in on the importance of building relationships with legislatures in order to successfully carry out their policy agendas.

Day 3: Tuesday

Day three tackled fiscal policy and issues related to state provision of services, featuring a set of speakers well versed in such topics.

The class began the day with a presentation by Donna Arduin, who served as the director of the Florida Office of Policy and Budget under Governor Bush. Her presentation covered the basics and complexities of budgeting for the government of a state. Alan Levine, currently CEO of the Mountain States Health Alliance, also spoke to the class about his role in in the Bush Administration as secretary of health administration. Both Levine and Arduin answered questions from the class before the students broke into working groups over lunch.

Upon returning from the break, Governor Bush, Arduin, and Levine posed a budgeting crisis scenario in Louisiana to the class, asking for proposals to resolve a hundred million dollar budget shortfall.  Students suggested a number of policies to increase revenue, lessen expenditures, and attract industry to the state.

A video address discussing the challenges of governing from former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wrapped up the day’s lecture before the students assembled for a photo with Governor Bush.

Day 4: Wednesday

Students received a firsthand look at Bush’s state education plan during Wednesday’s class. His former deputy chief of staff for education, Patricia Levesque, spoke to the class about the implementation of Bush’s A+ Education Plan. Levesque currently serves as chief executive officer of Excel in Ed, an education reform nonprofit organization chaired by Bush.

Bush and Levesque led the class in a hearty discussion before introducing Bill Simmons, Bush’s director of Management Services.  Simon’s discussion of state procurement and civil service reform was interrupted by a brief visit from Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush. President Bush greeted the students and sat in on the class’s Q&A session with Simon.

Video addresses from Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, were presented before and after the hour-long lunch breakout sessions. Bush, as well as Simon and Levesque, visited student groups during the breakout sessions and advised them on the individual challenges posed at the beginning of the class.

After lunch, Governor Bush led a discussion on the role of the governor in foreign policy, specifically referring to his own experience working on issues of trade and border security in Florida. The class then held a video conference with former West Virginia governor and the state’s current senator, Joe Manchin. Senator Manchin talked with the class about his challenges both as governor and in Congress, specifically the loss of coal jobs in West Virginia and balancing the state’s budget.

Day 5: Thursday

Thursday’s class spanned a number of topics beginning with a presentation from current FEMA administrator and former Florida Director of Emergency Management W. Craig Fugate.  Fugate spoke to students about his experience overseeing hurricane response efforts and working with Governor Bush.

Fugate’s presentation was followed by a conversation among Governor Bush, Bush’s longtime press secretary Kristy Campbell, and AP reporter Gary Fineout. Fineout, who worked in the capitol press corps during Bush’s tenure as governor, spoke on the role of media at the state level and media response to the actions of a governor. Bush, Campbell, and Fineout took questions from the class and recalled instances of cooperation between Bush’s administration and the capital press corps.

Former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley joined the class after the break, giving a presentation on the role of data in 21st century government. O’Malley and Bush fielded questions from the class on their experience as governors before teaming up in a horseshoe match organized by students in class. The two governors took on second-year Bush School students Sean Danielson and Will Holleman and won the match in a landslide, 15-3.

Day 6: Friday

Friday’s class began with a discussion on state-federal relations, concluding a week of speakers and presentations on the governor’s role within the state.  Governor Bush began the morning speaking about his own interactions with the federal government during his time in office, specifically on issues of federal funding. He then introduced Wendy Riemann, a speechwriter for Governor Bush, who spoke on her experience as director of federal relations for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Riemann’s remarks were followed by an off-the-cuff conversation between the class and four of Governor Bush’s former travel aides. The aides, who spoke to the class via video conference, talked about the unconventional political education they gained working as support staff to the governor and told stories about the more humorous points of their jobs.

The afternoon featured presentations by three student groups, who had spent the previous week preparing solutions to situations faced by governors in recent years.  The three groups presented information about the Flint water crisis, the ongoing budget impasse in Illinois, and the passage of HB 1040 in Arizona and resulting protests; then they provided their informed recommendations for solving the problems faced by the governors of the three states.  Each group took questions from the class after giving their presentations.

To wrap up the week, the class viewed a video address from current Texas Governor Greg Abbott before being dismissed. 

Day 7: Monday

The course wrapped up on Monday, January 16, with remarks from Governor Bush and a set of student presentations.  Governor Bush began the morning with words of advice for the aspiring public servants enrolled in the class and introduced the remaining four student groups charged with presenting solutions to issues faced by a governor.

Groups presented on Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s response to a botched execution in 2011; the implementation of Colorado’s recreational marijuana law; riots in Ferguson, Missouri; and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s response to protests over his cuts to labor unions.  Each presentation garnered a robust discussion among the class and presenters.

After the presentations, Bush School Dean Mark Welsh addressed the class. He thanked Governor Bush for his time and presented him with a Bush School pullover as well as a framed picture of Governor Bush and the class, signed by each student. Dean Welsh also recognized the Bush School staff and faculty who had coordinated the course as well as members of the governor’s staff. Finally, the class concluded with a brief video address from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

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