A bespectacled Jeb Bush nearly blushed at the admiration he received from a crowd of about 400 people in Marco Island.
“As a former governor, I don’t get many standing ovations, so this is neat,” he said.
Bush, who was the featured speaker at the inaugural Marco Town Hall Speaker Series event held at the Marco Island Marriot, addressed federal policies and agenda in his 45-minute speech, but later dispelled rumors of a presidential run in two years.
“It’s very flattering that people would consider me worthy of that pursuit,” he said.
He said he has even avoided speaking in Iowa – even though he’s been invited repeatedly – because it’s an early primary state.
“I don’t want to raise speculation,” he said.
Though Bush has been coy about possible presidential plans beyond 2012, he was more transparent about his views about America’s politics and its future.
“The world (doesn’t view) the United States as the gold standard anymore,” Bush said. “That troubles me.”
Bush believes the federal government should prioritize energy, education, and immigration reform while reducing regulation that’s he said prevent innovation.
But he said agencies with “alphabet soup” acronyms create burdens for entrepreneurs, so they go to other countries.
“As people … try to envision a return on their investment all of this rewriting of policy and the uncertainty brings creates new problems,” he said. “That doubt and uncertainty makes it harder to innovate.”
Amending immigration laws and policy may encourage growth, according to Bush. He believes immigration reform should come in two phases. In the first phase, the federal government would focus more resources on border security measures and use methods of internal oversight, such as E-verify.
During the second phase of reform, Bush said lawmakers should amend federal polices to encourage young, aspirational immigrants the opportunity to become permanent citizens.
“We should say (that) we want the aspiring next generation to create prosperity for us,” he said.
According to Bush, the United States needs a diverse and high-achieving “next generation” to “allow the generation that is retiring to live in dignity.”
“It’s not popular, but you do the math,” Bush said. “A declining population of older people will not be able to achieve economic growth.”
Trey Radel, host for a local political radio show, doesn’t think Bush’s immigration policies deviate from the conservative zeitgeist.
“He’s a principled conservative. He can talk about these issues with depth. He comes from a worldly perspective,” Radel said.
To encourage members of the audience to stay involved in the political process, Bush shared a quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt.
“‘Let us run the risk of wearing out instead of rusting out,’” he said. “I’m not a candidate for anything (laugh from people) but I will be in the arena … to change the course of our country.”
The following are quotes from Jeb Bush from Friday night's speech:
■ On Rick Scott:
“Until Rick Scott showed up, I was probably the most conservative governor in the state’s history.”
“He is incredibly intense, which I like, incredibly hardworking, (and) very disciplined.”
■ On Hispanic Voters and the Republican Party:
“Be sensitive to the fact that what you say matters,” he said. “They want to feel like they are a part of the team.”
“We can ignore them and expect a state like Nevada to be lost forever, or you can challenge the perception that all Hispanics are liberal because they’re not.”
■ On the Wisconsin Protest and Governor Scott Walker:
“Maybe he’s a little aggressive, but I was and I like that.”
“I’m a huge Scott Walker fan, and I think he’s on the right side of this.”
“This is tough duty right now to be in public life and (people like) Walker are showing a better way.”
■ On hearing Marco Rubio stump:
“I cried every time because it just warmed my heart that someone could speak about the aspirational parts of our country in such a moving way.”
“I’m one of the groupies.”
■ On Education:
“I think the system stinks. We have a system that doesn’t work and we need transformation.”
“We should be able to fire the bad teachers that exist all across the country. They are a minority, but they have a debilitating effect.”
“We have to stop the notion that there is something idyllic about this notion that universal education has to be homogenous across the country.”
■ On Hope:
“Americans want hope … real hope, not the hopey, changey stuff.”