Former Gov. Jeb Bush didn’t hedge his positions on two key issues that could give him problems with the Republican Party’s conservative flank if he runs for president, and he also didn’t use an opening Friday to provide any insight about whether he’ll seek his party’s nomination.
For the final question of a collegial back and forth, Mike Jackson, CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, asked the son and brother of two previous Bush presidents whether he’d have his mother’s vote if he decided to run – a reference to former First Lady Barbara Bush’s comment last year that he shouldn’t run.
“So, um, yes," he said.
He also declined to take a shot at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had been viewed as the more moderate, problem-solving potential candidate favored by the Republican establishment – until he became ensnared in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Jackson asked Bush if, during his eight years as Florida governor, he’d ever closed lanes for a “traffic study.” The audience laughed, but Bush didn’t take the bait, drawing his fingers across his mouth to indicate his lips were sealed.
He delivered his 25-minute speech and answered questions for 18 minutes before 900 people gathered for the Broward Workshop's annual "state of our county" forum.
Bush was much, much more direct on two key policy areas on which he’s at odds with tea party members and many conservatives.
Immigration. “We have a broken immigration system,” Bush said.
Right now, he said, legal immigration is focused too much on family reunification and not economics that would help the American economy. Repairing it would reward risk takers and help the American economy by allowing businesses to fill 3 million high-skill jobs for which American employers can’t find qualified people.
“Legal immigration, based on the needs for our country, should be easier than illegal immigration,” Bush said, lamenting that it’s not.
Common Core. He said it’s hard to believe that the “high and lofty” standards demanded by Common Core to reform the way critical subjects are taught and tested have generated so much opposition. “Trust me, it is very controversial,” he said.
He said the standards are “benchmarked to the rest of the world,” and require higher level critical thinking, language arts and math than currently required. He said they’d serve as a “truth serum for our communities to wake up and realize that we’ve languished way too long” and decried the “mythologies that have been built around it” and the people who “go nuts about it.” The biggest opponents are part of the tea party movement.
He said education must be about preparing young people to be part of increasingly competitive global economy. “We can say that the self-esteem of children is far more important than whether they learn,” he said. “In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self esteem, they care about whether they learn math, whether they can read – in English…. You tell me which society is going to be the winner in this 21st Century: One that worries about how we feel or the one that worries about making sure that the next generation has the capacity to eat everybody’s lunch.”
Much of the nation’s political polarization and inability of Washington to get things done reflects a cultural shift and change in the way people get information, Bush said.
“If I’m a conservative I’ll generally watch Fox. If someone’s liberal they’ll generally watch MSNBC. They’ll basically learn a set of facts that are completely distinct from one another. They’ll get their views validated. And when you get your views validated consistently, you become righteous about your views and less tolerant about the other person’s views,” Bush said, adding that creates problems in a world without common bonds.
He said former President Ronald Reagan won on many big issues because he “embraced his adversaries,” and had personal relationships with them. “We’ve got to get outside the armed camps right now,” he said. “Maybe President Obama will have an epiphany.” If Obama truly reached out, Bush said, “the Republicans would get dizzy. They wouldn’t know what to do.”
During his 25-minute speech and 18 minutes of Jackson-led questions, he called approval of the controversial Keystone oil pipeline “the biggest no brainer in the world.”
Education and economic opportunity would be a boon to all, especially for people in poverty, he said. “We need to recognize that economic liberty is a principle we should embrace rather than through a thousand cuts neuter.”
The Broward Workshop, is the county’s top 100 CEOs. The annual breakfast attracts many more, including government officials – and Democrats.
County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, writing on Twitter, said that Bush “wasn't a big fan of mine when I was a state rep. It was mutual” She also mocked his concern for education with the observation that he was “the same Jeb Bush who gutted public ed when he was in office,” and that supporters portray him as a moderate.”
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a Democrat, said the speech reinforced his view of Bush as “a policy wonk. He’s always been about policy.