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7 june 2015 nymag.com

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http://img.wonkette.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Screen-Shot-2015-03-26-at-5.04.45-PM.pngToday, Cubans are not quite as influential in Florida politics. They are no longer the majority of the state’s Hispanic electorate. The new generation of Florida Latinos tends to lean more left than right, and even Cubans in the state have lately been tempted by Democrats, with 48 percent of them voting for Obama in the last election. Recent public-opinion surveys have made it clear that Hispanics overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing the minimum wage. Jeb does not stand for these ideas; Hillary does. She, too, is popular with Latinos.

But if presidential elections are won or lost in Florida, and if Florida’s electoral votes are won or lost based on the Hispanic vote, then Jeb, with his longtime celebration of those many, many flags, may be the only Republican candidate with a fighting chance to beat her. “Even Marco Rubio would be more limited to the Cuban base,” says Bendixen. Rubio, for better or for worse, is still affiliated with the anti-immigrant tea party. Plenty of non-Cuban Latinos remember his comment from 2009 — “Nothing against immigrants, but my parents were exiles” — and hold it against him, because it implied that those who came here seeking economic opportunity deserved less. (It has since come out that Rubio’s parents came here for economic opportunity themselves, rather than fleeing from Castro.) Ironically, it also turns out to be important that Jeb is not Latino. “Rubio is from the community,” explains Anthony Suarez, the president of the Puerto Rican bar association and a former state legislator. “But Jeb is not. He can say, ‘Immigrants are just other Americans.’ ” A gringo agitating on behalf of immigration rights — what could be more powerful than that?

There’s another problem that could spook Jeb this primary season, one that’s thornier in some ways than Common Core and immigration. Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, says he’s been delving into the business transactions of Jeb Bush as well, and he plans to publish his findings online. Jeb prides himself on his business background. But a number of his deals over the years have involved a gallery of miscreants, making them hard to distinguish from the wild subplots of a Hiaasen novel. They’re pure Florida, in short.

“Well, yeah,” says Hiaasen when I ask him about it. “This is a place where Bernie Madoff did most of his damage. The state is a magnet for scammers and big talkers who can’t back it up.”

Getting rich quick is central to the Florida dream. The bankruptcy laws have historically been more lenient; the state has no personal income tax, which makes it attractive to professional athletes, retirees, scoundrels. Florida now leads the country in identity theft and mortgage fraud, and it’s also a hospitable climate for inspired Ponzi schemes. Politicians are constantly getting entangled — or at least roped into photographs — with swindlers.

“Here’s a classic example,” says Hiaasen. “If you go back, there’s a picture somewhere of Hillary Clinton posing with a guy who she was told was a legitimate man in the Florida Keys — what’s his name? He lived down the street from me.” He thinks for a second, fails to summon it. “Anyway, he was a big-assed dope smuggler. But he gave a lot of money, so he shows up at a reception in Miami, and of course he’s standing close to her, so she poses for a picture, because that’s what politicians do. God, what is his name?” Another pause. “Cabrera!” Yes. Jorge Cabrera, according to Google. “Anyway, I don’t know if he was bringing in coke” — 6,000 pounds of it, says the New York Times — “but the thing is, lots of people in the Keys knew he was in the business, because that was like a second industry down here. But how would Hillary have known?”

In the picture, she’s smiling with him in front of a Christmas tree.

“Or look up Scott Rothstein and Charlie Crist,” Hiaasen continues. “Scott was a big-time lawyer, a huuuuuge contributor to the Democrat Party — and the Republican Party. Mainly the Republican Party. He was running a giant Ponzi scheme.” South Florida’s largest, at $1.2 billion. “And Charlie Crist, in these pictures, he was practically nibbling on Rothstein’s earlobe.”

http://photographyblog.dallasnews.com/files/2013/02/BushBlog1.jpgWhat’s different in Jeb’s case is that he wasn’t simply roped into unfortunate and ill-timed pictures with tricksters. Some of his entrepreneurial ventures involved the tricksters themselves. In the early days, before he was governor, his seamiest project concerned a company named MWI, for whom he brokered deals to sell water pumps overseas, including to Nigeria, where he traveled on the company’s behalf. The Justice Department later sued MWI, claiming it had given a Nigerian middleman $25 million to bribe officials in order to get government loans. (The governor was never implicated in the bribery, but a judge put MWI on the hook for civil penalties.)

Florida’s culture of get-rich-quickism probably held out a particular appeal to Jeb. It’s part of the Bush-family tradition to light out for the territory, reinvent oneself, and make one’s fortune before entering public service. Making money always comes first. Jeb’s grandfather left Ohio to become a banker in the Northeast. Jeb’s father left the Northeast to become a Texas oilman. W., by this standard, didn’t roll very far from the tree, but he did make money in the energy business and Major League Baseball before starting his political career.

Jeb, of all the Bushes, probably had the fewest assets before entering public office, and when he left Tallahassee, he was worth $1.3 million, which for the Bushes isn’t very much. His work space at the Biltmore is surprisingly unfussy (until January, he worked in a suite that didn’t even have its own bathroom). But the real-estate market went bananas during his time as governor. It must have whetted his appetite for a finer life. When I ask Howard Leach, one of Jeb’s most loyal fund-raisers, what the governor has been doing for the last eight years, he answers very matter-of-factly: “He’s been trying to rebuild his net worth.” And so he’s been sitting on corporate boards, doing real-estate deals with his son, hitting the speaking circuit.

He also got involved in what to my mind is his most eyebrow-raising venture. In 2007, Jeb became a consultant to a company named InnoVida, whose CEO claimed to have cheap, ready-to-build temporary homes for victims of earthquakes and other natural disasters. Later, he joined the company’s board of directors. There was just one problem: The CEO, Claudio Osorio, was lying. His business was largely imaginary. Eventually, an investor in InnoVida sued. Osorio pleaded guilty to fraud and is now in jail. InnoVida declared bankruptcy.

In court records, Jeb claims he was acting in good faith when he served as a consultant to the company. (He’s since returned $270,000, though the company’s trustees sought nearly $470,000.) His spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, adds that the governor hired a former federal-law-enforcement agent to conduct a background check on Osorio and his company. “The report he received,” she says, “didn’t have any red flags that indicated criminal or financial wrongdoing.”

But Linda Worton Jackson, the lawyer who represented InnoVida’s creditors, points out that even the simplest form of due diligence — namely, consulting the internet — should have raised those red flags.

“A simple Google search would have shown that Osorio had already committed the same type of fraud,” says Jackson. It’s true: Even in 2007, it was possible to punch Osorio’s name into Google and find a lawsuit over a bogus electronics concern he’d founded. In fact, Osorio had been sued several times for fleecing investors before 2007. Had the investigator gone to the clerk’s office at the federal court in Miami, he would have discovered this, including a subsequent class-action suit against the electronics company, in which it was called a “fraudulent scheme.” And there were plenty of warning signs about Inno­Vida itself: Nine months before Jeb climbed aboard, a judge evicted the company from its factory space. One of its part owners had also been convicted of selling cocaine. “Jeb was paid $15,000 a month,” Jackson adds. “That’s a lot of money to be a consultant to a company you know nothing about.” To say nothing of being on its board. He attended at least two meetings. “You do not generally see politicians on the board of directors of a Ponzi scheme,” she says. “That’s what’s unusual here.”

http://www.thedailysheeple.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/skullbones.jpgInnoVida wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, exactly; it was just the sinkhole of a charlatan. Chris Korge, a board member and a prodigious Hillary fund-raiser, ultimately realized as much and sued. Jeb was the first person he contacted, and the governor reacted promptly, alerting the rest of the board and asking for financial documents. But it was far too late.

“Osorio entered into contracts with Haiti,” says Jackson. “He duped them out of millions of dollars after the earthquake. Can you imagine?”

So. Say what you will about Clinton Cash. Its findings now have the following competition: Jeb Bush served on the board of a company that bled the Haitian government — and big charities that served to help it — at just the moment its people, homeless and starving, needed it most.

I am sitting in the office of Norman Braman, the 82-year-old billionaire auto magnate in Miami who’s prepared to spend millions on Marco Rubio.

“I am offended,” he tells me, “by people who feel that they’re entitled to something just because of their last name.”

Braman is a formidable foe. He speaks about Rubio with the fondness of a father toward a son, and his distaste for the governor has personal roots: Back when Jeb was still in office, he vetoed $2 million in research funding for the Braman Breast Cancer Institute. (“Who the hell is against breast-cancer research?” Braman asked Politico, which first pointed this out.)

Out of curiosity, I ask if Braman has ever dealt with Jeb as a businessman.

“No.” Then he pauses. “Actually, he showed us a house once in Miami.”

What?

“It was many years ago. The late ’80s, I think.”

I tell him I never imagined Jeb actually showing houses as a young man in the real-estate business. That’s pretty small-bore. Braman smiles.

“It was a special house.”

Marco Rubio’s entry into the 2016 fray has been, to put it mildly, inconvenient for Jeb Bush. Rubio’s just behind Jeb in national polls, as is Scott Walker, and not by much. Almost all of the other candidates seem to have more Achilles’ heels than they do feet.

What this means is that the state of Florida could be central to the next presidential election in a way it hasn’t been since the days of hanging chads.
The press down there is already having a ball with it. The Tampa Bay Times calls its coverage “Jebio.” An intra-Florida cage match would obviously make for a fascinating spectacle, in some ways eclipsing the psychodrama of even the Bush family itself. When Rubio was voted in as the speaker of the Florida house, Jeb presented him with a sword.

Gelber, the former minority leader of the Florida house, believes the friendship between these two men has been overblown by a press hungry for a soapy plotline. “Jeb wasn’t Marco’s mentor,” he says, his voice drenched with amusement. “Jeb was the general. All of those guys were lieutenants. Marco was an important ally, but he was fungible.”

But the governor is clearly still annoyed. At one of his impromptu press scrums in New Hampshire this April, a reporter started to ask, “Governor, Marco Rubio announced a few days ago —” and Jeb immediately interrupted, knowing exactly where the question was heading. “This is gonna be a 15-yard-penalty loss. This is a process question?”

“It’s not,” replied the reporter. “I’m curious if you felt betrayed at all —”

“That’s a process question!”

“It’s about your personal feelings!” protested the reporter. “It’s someone you were close with for a long time.”

Jeb paused, clearly not knowing what to say. Then, finally: “It is what it is.”

https://genehowington.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/1024px-george_w-_bush_and_family.jpgThe governor may be reluctant to say anything negative about Rubio. But his advisers are less cautious. “Jeb has a fleet of friends who’d go through walls for him like no other candidate in the race, except maybe Hillary,” says Arrizurieta. “Marco doesn’t have that. Marco has never had that.”

He has a point. Jeb and the entire Bush clan have been around for so long that the governor has loyalists sprinkled all over the state, and most people who’ve worked for Marco worked for Jeb first — including Rubio’s 2010 campaign manager, who recently announced he’d be working as Jeb’s lead adviser for Hispanic outreach. Many state lawmakers who should be Rubio partisans are for the moment keeping mum.

But Rubio has other advantages when it comes to snatching up votes in his crucial home state. “The fact of the matter is that Rubio was on a statewide ballot more recently,” says David Custin, a Miami-based strategist. “There are millions of registered voters who’ve never voted for Bush. And there was no tea-party wing when Jeb ran. There is now, and Rubio connects to them.”

And it’s not just the tea party. “He’s televangical,” says Gelber. “And I always found it very maddening, because he was hijacking our issues and frankly sounding better than most of us. Rubio’s very good at sounding the right note. Whereas Jeb just always seems a little bit off-key.”

Most threatening of all, though, is that Rubio is a young man in a hurry with little to lose. Back in 2010, the world discouraged him from running in the Senate primary against Charlie Crist, and he didn’t listen then either. His biggest fear isn’t running for office too soon; it’s waiting too long, like Jeb. True, he had to give up his Senate seat in order to run. But he’s only 44 years old. He never cared much for Congress anyway. “He really feels that the Senate hasn’t debated the issues,” says Braman. Obama felt the same way. It was up or out.

Yet for all of Rubio’s and Jeb’s individual strengths, they both have substantial liabilities. In Rubio’s case, it’s precisely his resemblance to Obama that may undo him. The country’s already tried a bright, idealistic, rising Senate superstar, a fellow who was long on eloquence but short in the tooth, and it’s just this combination of inexperience and unrealized rhetoric that now disenchants Obama’s critics most. Jeb, meanwhile, has to eke out enough early primary wins to build the faith and momentum required to become the party nominee, and this is easier said than done: In Iowa, he polls disastrously, and the caucus spoils there have lately gone to religious conservatives anyway (Rick Santorum won in 2012). The governor’s best bets are South Carolina, which has a taste for Establishment candidates, and New Hampshire, where he’s already spent a lot of time — and seems to have figured out a shtick, as the guy from the tropics who’s suddenly forced to navigate the folkways of the Northeast. (“What are these things, by the way?” he deadpanned at “Politics and Pie,” pointing to a pair of old snowshoes mounted on a wall. “We don’t have these in Miami.”) Scott Walker, whom Iowa loves, could very well wind up trouncing them both.

Even if Jeb Bush makes it to the next trench — and then the next and the next and the next — he’ll eventually have to run against an extraordinarily well-funded candidate who just happens to be the first credible female contender for president of the United States, running with the full might of history in her sails. The Bush name and connections can reap a man many benefits — money, recognition, power. But the one thing they cannot do is turn back the clock. Jeb was a perfect candidate for 1994. He’d have been right at home in Newt Gingrich’s army of Republican revolutionaries as they took over the House in Washington and statehouses across the country.

His parents knew this. They had two sons running for governor that year. Jeb may have had the slightly tougher race, but they could have split up on Election Night, with one in Texas and one in Florida. Instead, I recently learned, they both chose to spend the night in Miami. As the evening wore on and it became clear that the Jeeves of the family had lost and the Bertie Wooster had won, they left and headed back to Texas. They could barely conceal their grief. (“The joy is in Texas,” George H.W. said, “but our hearts are in Florida.”) Five years later, George W. Bush was campaigning for president. Jeb was finally settling into the statehouse in Tallahassee.

So here we are, 16 years later still. George W. has poisoned the Bush-family name with a horrific war in Iraq, and the tea party has poisoned the GOP with its assault on rational discourse and nuanced policy. A charismatic bright young thing from the governor’s home state is nipping at his heels. Yet this may be Jeb’s only moment to jump into the fray. As blessed as he is, the ultimate political prize — lucky timing — seems to have eluded him in a way it never did his less talented older brother, even his father. But what can he do?

It is what it is.

*This article appears in the June 1, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.
Topic edited 1 times, last edit by RouTe, 07 June 2015, 0:27  

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