Just two days after George W. Bush was sworn in as president in 2001, he received a “Dear George’’ letter from his younger brother, Jeb, the Florida governor, who did not even bother congratulating the new White House resident on his inauguration.
Instead, the governor offered nine wonky pages of detailed advice on how to use the power of the Oval Office to revitalize American federalism, saying the new president had an opportunity to build “a new bond of trust with state governments.’’
The prose is mired in bureaucratic detail, but the letter, which resurfaced Monday, nonetheless marks a revealing moment in the political relationship between two brothers from a dynastic Republican family. The pair has maintained a sibling rivalry, which has sometimes burst into public view, but on this occasion Jeb Bush emphasized their shared philosophy of smaller government, even if he at times took a lecturing tone.
“It is my hope . . . to advance suggestions that might help you in the presidency,’’ Jeb Bush wrote. He concluded, with a wink to their shared blood tie, “Your experience in Texas, your background in government and business, and of course, your fine family upbringing, makes you and your administration uniquely qualified to improve relations with the states.’’
The presidential campaign of Jeb Bush provided a copy of the letter to the Globe on Monday after the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum refused to release it along with a batch of other correspondence. The letter was among several hundred pages of records that were kept confidential after a public records request by the Globe in March.
The library said release of the Jan. 22, 2001, letter from the Florida governor to the president “would disclose confidential advice between the president and his advisers.”
Its relatively benign contents show how broadly officials, who are custodians of the collection at the Dallas presidential library, are interpreting the exemption from public records. (Florida newspapers quoted from the letter in 2001, when it apparently was first made public by the governor’s administration.)
Of 598 pages of documents in a batch Monday, 404 were partially or fully withheld, with the library citing various reasons. Most commonly, they said the documents were “private advice,” or that the release of the documents would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Two pages were withheld because they were said to contain classified information.
The 2001 letter offers a detailed glimpse at how the Florida governor viewed the federal government as intrusive, and his hope that his brother’s Republican administration would reverse the trend.
Quoting Henry Clay, Bush urged his brother to follow 12 steps that he said would help “rebalance’’ Washington’s relationship with the 50 states. He urges his brother to relax federal oversight of environmental affairs (a big issue in Florida), butt out of local law enforcement standards, and allow states to innovate by placing fewer strings on the flow of federal money.
“State governments are the seedbeds of innovation and experiment, not the docile wards of a bureaucracy far from home,” he wrote.
Jeb Bush’s last name — and his relationship with his brother — has been one of the enduring issues during his presidential campaign. He has said he loves his brother and his father, and is proud of his heritage, but questions remain over whether voters will warm to the idea of a third Bush presidency.
The Globe reported in March on other public documents between the two brothers — about a back-and-forth over natural disaster declarations. The records showed that the president rejected his younger brother’s requests for disaster relief at a greater rate than the national average.
Some of the documents are mundane tasks: Jeb Bush at one point passed along a message from Rocky Flash, a New Jersey Republican who wanted to personally meet President Bush to talk about a bill he had written regarding drunken driving (Flash in 2009 said he was a vampire, and lived by vampire law, and was convicted of threatening to torture and kill a judge in Indiana).
Jeb Bush wrote to his brother expressing support for a pilot program for seniors’ farmers markets, saying that 1,250 Florida seniors were getting $20 per month in coupons redeemable at local farmers markets.
“I appreciate your consideration of this fruitful program for Florida’s low-income seniors and small farmers,” Jeb Bush wrote.
There is a signed copy of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan Assurance of Projects Benefits Agreement, a $7.8 billion plan to restore the Everglades and one that Jeb Bush had urged his brother to support in the letter he wrote him just after the inauguration. The final document was signed by both brothers.
And there was some room for humor.
In August 2001, Jeb Bush wrote a handwritten note to his brother that said: “Dear George: Some people support the tax plan! Sincerely, Jeb.” The next page is a menu from Columbus, Ga.-based Country’s Barbecue, which at the time was offering “Dubya’s Texas Specials.” Customers who ordered the Texas Special would get their next meal tax-free.
“Check this out!” Jeb wrote atop the menu.