by Bill Sizemore
As the Republican nominee, I attended the 1998 Republican Governor’s Conference in Miami, Florida. It was a pretty small group of us. There were a few U.S. Senators, some movers and shakers in the Party, some big name reporters, and of course most of the Republican governors. George Bush was there and so was his brother Jeb.
I especially remember one evening when three or four of us “guys” were hanging around after a meeting. We were laughing and swapping political war stories like old college chums at a reunion. It was a good time and one I remember well. Bill Owen from Colorado was there. Jeb Bush was there. He was running for governor of Florida. And George was there, too. The thing I remember most about that night is that Jeb Bush was just one of us guys. There was no blue blood air about him. He laughed and joined in the conversation and was in no hurry to leave.
George, on the other hand, stood off from the rest of us. There was a certain aloofness about him. I don’t know why. Maybe he was just shy. Whatever the reason, it was obvious to me that George and his brother Jeb were not much alike. That’s often the way with brothers.
I’m writing this column because I know that a lot of my conservative friends think Jeb Bush is not conservative enough. Most think he’s too moderate because, well, he’s a Bush. But I have to tell you, I’m not so sure they are reading him well. Granted, George senior was pretty stinking moderate. In my opinion his unforgiveable backtracking on his, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” pledge is what gave us eight years of Bill Clinton.
But here’s my point: Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that George the son was more conservative than his dad. Was he conservative enough? Nope. But he was more so than George H.W. Bush, his dad. And I believe a fair assessment of Jeb’s record as governor of Florida will reveal that Jeb was clearly more conservative than his brother George.
Jeb passed school choice and vouchers in Florida. To me, that’s huge. To pass school choice, you have to take on the teachers unions big time. And that takes some serious guts. This I know. Jeb also ended affirmative action in Florida by executive order. That is not exactly the moderate or politically correct thing to do. And he also cut taxes in Florida by something like $16 billion and personally cut $2 billion from the state budget using his line item veto. And after doing all of that, he managed to leave office a popular man.
Yes, there are some red flags when Jeb talks about immigration reform and the whole “path to citizenship” thing. And his support for Common Core is troubling, though he has made it clear that his version completely excludes any federal involvement. Still, these are serious issues and I need to hear more.
This time four years ago I was a Perry supporter – till he fizzled in the debates. Today I would throw my support to Scott Walker. His record fighting and beating public employee unions in Wisconsin is a compelling one. Yet if I were a betting man, I would say the odds of winning the 2016 nomination are heavily in Jeb Bush’s favor. Jeb may be his own man. He may be more conservative than his dad and brother, but the Bush political machine will still go to work for him. And it is an undeniably formidable machine.
To put this all into perspective I ask you this: If today with a wave of your hand you could replace Barack Obama with Jeb Bush, would you do it? Would there not be an entirely different feel about this country, at home and in the world, if right now we had Jeb Bush at the helm instead of Barack Obama? If it comes down to Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton, and it probably will, I will not have to hold my nose to vote for that guy I met in Florida some 17 years ago. We could do a lot worse.
Jeb Bush is not his dad and he’s not his brother. And he’s not a Bob Dole or a John McCain either. So if my guy Scott Walker or one of the other staunch conservatives doesn’t get the nomination, I will have no problem getting behind Jeb. He may very well be our best bet.