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Jeb Bush addresses business leaders on many issues but not the 2016 race

DAVIE — Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and a leading contender in the early GOP race for the White House, has fashioned himself as the "education governor."

But on Friday, Bush went veggie.

"I was the kind of the Eat Your Broccoli Governor," Bush joked at the Broward Workshop business breakfast, where he pointed out that his policies weren't always perceived as sweet.

Judging from the applause of the 900 or so business leaders in attendance, Bush's speech was received like candy.

In rapid-fire fashion, Bush hopped from topic to topic geared toward the business crowd: immigration reform, Port Everglades dredging, bond ratings, state and federal debt loads, education reform, pro-growth policies, foreign trade and imprecations against "taxing assets, taxing income, taxing the air you breathe, the excuse-me-for-living tax."

But there's one topic he wouldn't touch: whether he is running for president.

Bush tried to duck reporters on his way out of the Signature Grand event on Davie Boulevard, and would only tell the media that he planned to make a decision later this year — likely after the 2014 elections.

In a friendly question-and-answer session, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson wouldn't even ask him the question.

Instead, Jackson referenced Bush's mother, Barbara Bush, who said the country has had enough Bush presidents, namely his brother and father.

"If you were to run for president," Jackson asked, "would you get your mother's vote?"

"So, um, yes," Bush said.

Earlier Jackson made a joke about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's woes in the "Bridgegate" scandal.

"When you were governor," Jackson asked, "did you ever close any bridges for traffic studies?"

Bush wouldn't answer.

With Christie's fall, Bush is now seen as the candidate of the GOP establishment.

Bush is favored to be the GOP's frontrunner in a new analysis from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, which plays up the establishment roots of Bush, the son and brother of former presidents.

Some nationwide polls show Bush in front. Others indicate Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the Republican to beat.

Nearly all show Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton would beat them, even in Florida, in 2016.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush friend and protégé, was once a frontrunner and is now in the middle or bottom of the pack in many early polls.

Dragging Rubio down: his support of bipartisan immigration reform last year. Bush has essentially the same stances as Rubio on the issue.

Bush has advocated for pathways to citizenship and residency for illegal immigrants, enhanced border security and immigrant tracking technology, and an emphasis on admitting immigrants based on the nation's needs, not family relationships with current U.S. citizens.

Bush said immigrants capture America's entrepreneurial spirit.

"People who come here legally and illegally are the risk-takers," Bush said. "If you're living in a rural area of Guatemala and you come, you're a bigger risk-taker than those who stay."

Aside from immigration, Bush's advocacy for the Common Core State Standards has earned him enmity on the right.

Bush has repeatedly explained the standards, implemented and controlled by the states, are designed to make the United States more competitive with the rest of the world. He said those who oppose the education standards support the "status quo," oppose testing and are worried too much about children's self-esteem.

"Let me tell you something. In Asia today, they don't care about children's self-esteem. They care about math, whether they can read — in English — whether they understand why science is important, whether they have the grit and determination to be successful," Bush said.

"You tell me which society is going to be the winner in this 21st century: The one that worries about how they feel, or the one that worries about making sure the next generation has the capacity to eat everybody's lunch?"

Bush touted Florida's educational improvement as a model for the nation.

In a comment that could equally apply to his position on education as it could to a candidate for president, Bush said more needs to be done.

"The minute you kind of pull back and say 'We can rest on our laurels' is the first day of your decline," he said.

Jeb Bush addresses business leaders on many issues but not the 2016 race 03/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 11:32pm]
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