Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush focused on education and the economy in remarks to a small group of supporters at state Republican Party headquarters Friday as he made a swing through the state on his way to the South Carolina GOP convention.
Bush also spoke with reporters and addressed the recent uproar in Baltimore and what the presidential response should be.
“Any president has the responsibility to first, make sure people understand the rule of law applies here,” Bush said. “There are ways to protest peacefully. When you cross the line and start doing damage to property and harming innocent people, that’s a problem.”
He said a president should lead a national conversation about how the U.S. creates “big pockets of poverty.” The solution, he said, doesn’t include pouring money into those areas.
“We’ve had a war on poverty since the 1960s where we’ve spent trillions of dollars, and there are more poor people today as a percentage of our population than the 1970s,” he said. “I would say (the solution is) challenging how we educate and making it easier for small businesses to thrive in these communities.”
Bush said that the U.S. invests more money per student than most countries, yet a third of the nation’s high school graduates aren’t ready for a career or college. Unlike many Republicans, Bush speaks favorably about Common Core, a set of school standards, saying it raises the performance standards in education. He said he is firmly against federal government involvement in the creation of standards and curriculum.
He expressed concern that many students must retake high school level math or reading at community colleges.
“Who’s fooling who? That’s the problem if you lower standards and you don’t access – because, God forbid, the stress of having little Johnny have to take a test – you don’t know how much work has to be done,” Bush said.
“We are now at a point because we’ve been so politically correct and so worried about self-esteem for children – not thinking that they can rise up and meet these challenges – that we now have huge numbers of young people that are neither college nor career ready.”
On jobs, Bush said he’s a unique politician in that he knows what it’s like to sign the front of a paycheck and build a successful business. Bush’s real estate firm in southern Florida started with three people and grew to 280 employees by the time he left, he said.
“I know for a fact as I travel around that what we did then would be harder to do today,” Bush said. “Because Washington D.C. is over-regulating every aspect of what goes on in this country. It’s stifling the ability to rise up.”
He also emphasized that he cut billions from Florida’s state budget and left it with $10 billion in reserves after two terms as governor.
However, Bush believes that the U.S. won’t build its economy unless it “re-engages with the rest of the world.”
He criticized President Obama’s foreign policy, saying restoring America’s leadership and presence worldwide has to be the first priority.
“America’s presence in the world creates more peace and more security,” Bush said. “Without us, we see what happens. Voids are filled by these new barbarian Islamic terrorist threats.”
When an audience member asked when Bush would announce his campaign for president, he responded saying he’s traveled around the country and his decision is “not too far off.”
North Carolina Republican Party chairman candidate Craig Collins, a lawyer from Gastonia, met Bush and said he would be happy to support him if he’s chosen as the party nominee.
“I’m excited that we have possibly the deepest group of qualified candidates that I’ve ever seen,” Collins said. “Whether our party nominates my first or last choice, I fully believe that candidate will be infinitely better than Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democrats nominate.”
Markeece Young, a freshman at Wake Tech studying political science, got his photo taken with Bush, who was happily posing for the cameras and signing autographs.
“I thought he was very genuine, truly had a vision of running this country and has a passion for leadership,” Young said.
However, Young said he’s more in favor of Republican candidate Rand Paul or expected candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker because they are “more youthful and into engaging minorities and young people who don’t normally vote Republican.”
“They also don’t have the last name ‘Bush,’” Young said. “For independent voters, when they see ‘Bush’ they don’t even care about the policies. That’s an instant turn off. The younger people are taught about ‘Bushes’ and ‘wars.’”
Patsy Keever, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, sought in a statement to tie Bush to war and his brother.
“Jeb Bush famously said that he would stand lockstep with the George W. Bush agenda ‘til death do us part,’” she said. “Our economy is still recovering from President Bush’s devastating recession and middle class families in North Carolina know they can’t afford another Bush in the White House.”
Jeb Bush acknowledged that many think of him as as George W.’s brother and George H.W.’s son.
“I have to go earn their respect, show my heart, and talk about my record,” he said. “I have a record of accomplishment that by most accounts and by other people thinking about running, it’s as good or better than any of them. The dynastic question will subside.”