Florida Sen. Mel Martinez's surprising decision not to run for re-election in 2010 has led former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to seriously consider running for the seat. This is very good news for Republicans: Martinez's poll numbers have been lousy, while Bush's are very high. Bush, in my judgment, was the outstanding state governor of this decade, for reasons that Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution sets out. (His leading competitor for that title, in my judgment, is Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.) Operating in a state where liberal newspapers, teachers' unions, and trial lawyers maintained a continual barrage of criticism, Bush and the Republican legislature produced the nation's best education reform and major changes in healthcare, while Bush himself proved masterful in handling hurricane relief. One reason for the federal government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina was that the feds were used to dealing with Jeb Bush and Florida's competent local officials; dealing with the hapless New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was quite a different thing.
It has long been thought that Bush is temperamentally ill-suited to be a legislator, and in fact he has never been one. But he is a man of original ideas as well as impressive follow-through. As a senator he would attract national attention initially as the brother and son of presidents, but over time he would do so because of the quality of his ideas. One other thing: He is fluent in Spanish and has proven appeal to Hispanic voters. And I mean fluent. I have seen him speaking to a crowd in Miami and switching from English to Spanish and back again in the same sentence, making jokes in both languages. He once told me that he was trying to make his accent less Mexican (his wife is from Mexico, and he met her while studying there) and more Cuban.
Bush says that he will decide over the Christmas season whether he'll run for the Senate. If he does, he will probably pre-empt the field on the Republican side (as he did when he ran for governor in 1998) and will be a heavy favorite in the general election. I hope he does. Mel Martinez's decision to retire has opened the way for this gifted politician to make a contribution to national politics and public policy. And to the Republican Party, which needs to find some outside-the-box candidates if it's to have any chance to increase its numbers in Congress in 2010.