Scott Walker may not be a candidate for president yet, but the Wisconsin governor’s growing political action committee staff is already going after a potential rival in the Republican primary. GOP strategist Liz Mair, CNN reports, has just signed on to consult for Walker’s Our American Revival PAC, doing outreach to bloggers and other digital media outlets.
But days before Monday’s announcement Mair was already taking on Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who’s currently seen as Walker’s chief competition. In an email to reporters last Wednesday, Mair pointed to a report from Politifact Florida that took issue with Bush’s claim that his elimination of affirmative action in admissions to Florida public universities and colleges boosted minority enrollment.
In an appearance last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bush touted his 1999 executive order that ended racial preferences. “Trust me, there were a lot of people upset about this,” Bush said. “But through hard work we ended up having a system where there were more African American and Hispanic kids attending our university system than prior to the system that was discriminatory.”
Bush’s statement at CPAC was a broad one about the state of minority enrollment in Florida public colleges, and Politifact’s Joshua Gillin acknowledges that the numbers of black and Hispanic students were both higher in 2013 than in 1999. But according to Mair, the ambiguity of Bush’s statement is problematic.
“For the guy who a lot of people are being told is the only adult who knows what he's talking about in the field, Bush gets a lot of facts and details wrong,” she told THE WEEKLY STANDARD last week.
Politifact argues the uptick in minority enrollment had more to do with factors unrelated to Bush’s elimination of affirmative action. The percentage of black student enrollment has actually gone down since 1999 (though it did go up several years after that), and Hispanic enrollment percentage has skyrocketed because of changes to demographic reporting. “There’s no hard evidence Bush’s One Florida program had much to do with the enrollment changes. Experts say demographics, graduation rates and state-sponsored scholarship money have had more influence,” says Gillin, who gives Bush’s statement a rating of “mostly false.”
A Bush camp source passed along a 2009 Tampa Bay Times article that looked back on the effect of the policy a decade after it was enacted. The newspaper (which own Politifact) cites problems with maintaining black student enrollment but notes through its own analysis of the numbers that minority enrollment was up since 1999:
The increasing diversity of Florida's 11 public universities has been fueled mostly by Hispanic enrollment — from 13.8 percent to 18 percent of total enrollment statewide — which reflects in part the changing demographics of the Sunshine State.
Black enrollment offers a mixed picture: a statewide dip, from 14 percent to 13.6 percent, with increases at some universities and decreases at others. For example, the University of South Florida in Tampa went from 9.2 percent to 11.5 percent black enrollment while Florida International University in Miami dropped from 14.6 percent to 12.4 percent.
"I'm of mixed opinion as to whether or not it's ultimately had a negative impact on diversity," USF admissions director Bob Spatig said of eliminating race-based admissions. "It certainly hasn't on the growing Hispanic population. … But I think in some ways we're all stretching as much as we can to make sure it doesn't impact our African-American numbers."