Martin Dyckman: If Jeb Bush runs, he’ll have to tell voters ‘it was only business’

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 “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”

That’s the gangster Tessio in “The Godfather,” as he’s being led to his doom for conniving to betray Michael Corleone.

Politics can be like that too.

According to a report in the New York Times this week, Jeb Bush has earned more than $2-million for serving on the board of Tenet Health Care, a hospital company.

Tenet strongly supports Obamacare, from which it expects handsome profits — $100-million this year alone.

But in another of his personas, Bush the politician has been doing his part to kill Obamacare, which he has called “flawed to the core.”

Granted, he hasn’t been as extreme as the party’s extra-terrestrial element. He disagreed sharply with Ted Cruz over shutting down the government over Obamacare.

Still, the notion that he has had anything to do with the program his party loves to hate will hound the former Florida governor if he decides to run for president.

The Tea Party faction most likely to vote in Republican primaries is seething viscerally over Obamacare. This disturbing phenomenon — with implications far beyond health care — would make it hard for Bush to persuade them that his connection to Obamacare is “only business.”

And should he become the nominee, Democrats would have another term or two for it.

Bush wouldn’t comment for the article. Tenet’s chief executive, however, said that in company meetings Bush has been consistently critical of Obamacare but understood “what is best for the company.”

Bush already has problems enough with the party’s extremists over his humane approach to immigration and his disdain for pledging to never raise taxes no matter what.

“Reagan conservatives look on Jeb Bush and see, quite predictably, the anti-Reagan,” snarled a recent article in the American Spectator.

The point of the Times article was to describe Bush as a man terribly eager to “expand his wealth” and not always prissy over how to do it.

The article described Bush as a paid adviser who “participated in the fevered, last-ditch efforts to prop up Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street bank weighed down by toxic mortgage-backed securities.”

This was in 2008. His brother was still president. Did that have anything to do with Jeb’s usefulness to the company? According to the Times, its executives talked about using him to lobby the president. Nothing came of it, however.

According to the Times, Bush remains a highly paid adviser to Barclays, which took over much of Lehman’s business.

In 2007, Bush became a board member and consultant to InnoVida, a startup that went bankrupt three years later with its founder going to jail.

The article reported also that Bush sat on the board of Swisher Hygiene, the subject of investor lawsuits over unreliable financial statements and poor accounting practices. Bush is a named defendant in some of the lawsuits filed by investors who lost money. There is controversy over whether board members exercised proper oversight, the Times reported, but it also noted that an important Democrat who lost money defended Bush’s actions.

Coincidentally –- perhaps — the Times this week also reprised the Terri Schiavo case as part of a recurring series called “Retro Report.” It retold the tragic story of the severely brain-damaged St. Petersburg woman whose husband won a court’s permission to let her die and then had to overcome unprecedented political interference from Jeb Bush and his brother the president.

If Jeb didn’t know it before, he knows it now: running for president would expose him to much more critical press scrutiny than he had to endure during his campaigns for governor of Florida.

There was plenty of it even then. One focus was on Bush’s business relationship with Miguel Recarey Jr., who became an international fugitive after being accused of what was then the largest Medicare fraud in history. Recarey’s HMO had paid Bush’s real estate brokerage $75,000 for a relocation that was never carried out.

According to testimony before a House committee, Bush — who was then the Dade County Republican Party chairman — made telephone calls to Washington in support of Recarey’s successful request to waive limits on Medicare enrollment in his HMO. Bush said he didn’t remember the calls.

That experience ought to have taught Bush that every little thing that might be overlooked in business becomes a big deal on the public stage of politics.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

Martin Dyckman


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