Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bush Defends Initiative 1,700 at Hearing on One Florida

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bush Defends Initiative 1,700 at Hearing on One Florida

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Facing a raucous crowd that accused him of trying to roll back gains made by African-Americans and women, Gov. Jeb Bush stood behind his plan yesterday to overhaul the state's affirmative action program.

Bush, who was loudly booed when he was introduced during a hearing at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, tried to convince the crowd of 1,700 that his One Florida Initiative would boost minority contracting and university admissions.

"It is important that you all understand that the underpinning of the One Florida plan is not to reject diversity but to embrace it in its fullest," Bush said.

But dozens of speakers -- more than 400 people had signed up to express their views -- said the plan would kill affirmative action by doing away with racial and gender preferences. In often emotional speeches, many told about how affirmative action had helped them get jobs and schooling.

"The One Florida Initiative represents an attempt to return to the dark days of the past," said Peggy Demon, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, a Miami Democrat.

Many said the governor should focus on improving the current affirmative action programs instead of overhauling them.

"Straighten it out, amend it, but don't get rid of it," said Albert J. Edden of Miami. "We are not going back."

Bush stayed for nearly three hours of the seven-hour hearing in a downtown Miami theater. Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan was scheduled to remain for the entire hearing.

The governor told reporters before leaving that he welcomed the comments but would not change his mind about trying to end racial and gender preferences.

"I'm pleased I came," Bush said. "I'm more convinced we're on the right track."

Of the first 65 speakers, only two supported parts of the plan. Ahmed Kabani, a Miami businessman, said the crowd needed to look closer at the plan.

"What you see in perception is not really the truth," said Kabani, who was booed so loudly that he was forced to leave the stage. …

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