Joined by Rep. Jeff Miller and Sen. Don Gaetz, Jeb Bush spoke to a crowd of more than 500 people at the Pensacola Bay Center on Aug. 19. He spoke on healthcare, veterans, foreign policy, energy, education and more. Bush is currently seeking the Republican nomination for President, but has taken a beating in the polls recently as businessman Donald Trump continues to dominate headlines. This town hall comes just five days after Trump attracted about 30,000 supporters just 50 miles away in Mobile, Ala. He tackled questions on immigration, Donald Trump, gay marriage, Planned Parenthood and more.
How can you market your ideas when the Bush name has been so tainted?
There’s no reason to be defensive. My dad is the greatest man alive. My brother kept us safe during extraordinary times. But to win, I have to tell the Jeb story. That’s the Florida story, where we reformed things that were quite broke. I have to show my leadership skills. A lot of people are one paycheck away from disaster right now. Our economy is not acting in a way that makes people confident. So I share my leadership story and the whole legacy things subsides. My motivation is that I have a servant’s heart. We have to stop talking about things and do things.
What are your ideas on healthcare?
The biggest regulatory burden we face is Obamacare. It suppresses wages and job growth. It outsources a massive amount of power to DC. It subsidizes some at the expense of others. It is costly, it is a high-deductible, high-premium plan that is not generating the kind of safety and support people want. So the net result is we have to repeal it and replace it with a system that is portable, high-deductible, low-premium. We can give tax credits that allow every American to get basic catastrophic coverage that goes with you when you move from a job. It’s going to be a significantly lower cost and focus on consumer engagement. That plan is my plan and will yield a far better result than Obamacare.
Why do you support Common Core?
I’m for higher standards that ought to be state-driven. The federal government should have no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum. The bigger point is the point beyond standards. Where do we stand as a country when it comes to career outcomes? A third of our students are college- and career-ready. Some say it’s because we don’t spend enough money. Well, we spend more money than almost any other country in the world. That’s no acceptable. We have a skills gap in this country. We have a huge challenge, and we need to stop arguing about the politics and realize that we had the best educational system in the world and we’ve allowed it to become mediocre. Let’s dramatically improve it so our future generations can enjoy it. We need a whole package of reforms, including school choice, teacher pay based on student learning, teaching kids for the profession. We want kids who are smart to be pushed along in their natural ability, and never let kids just pass without mastering the material. That will be done at the state level and implemented at the local level. The federal government can be a partner for reform, but it cannot dictate how to do it.
What’s your foreign policy plan?
We have to engage, which means backing up our word when we talk. We need to talk less and be a better deterrent. We have a president who’s great at grandiose language, but then it kind of goes into the ether. The sequester has devastated the military and we need to restore the military might so we can project force in a way that changes behavior. This is the first priority of government. Then we have to engage with China in a way that makes sure they don’t become a true enemy. We have treaty obligations with Japan and Korea, and if they act the way they act, there will be consequences. Backing up our talk with ensure Putin won’t act the way we fear he will act. Let’s not recreate the cold war. We want Russia to be our friends, but we cannot let them be a bully. We have to deal with a bully.
What is your position on the Cuban embargo?
Iran and Cuba are different examples of the same things, which is a naive foreign policy that believes dictators go quietly into the night. That’s not the case in Cuba. The Castro brothers will never change. So I would keep the embargo. I’m sad that we’re allowing our hard currency to prop up this regime. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re now the number one provider of hard currency. All Cubans are asking for is the right to pray and have a different view that their dictator. But the Castro regime is repressing that. So count on me to be a friend of the Cuban people.
How do you plan to support career and technical education?
It’s essential for a couple reasons. One, it’s a skill set. There’s three million jobs unfilled because people don’t have the skills. That’s not a problem; it’s an opportunity. We have to find new ways to deal with those gaps to find what employers need and how we can give people the skills to fulfill those. There are better ways to do it than we’ve done it. Community colleges do a pretty good job of this. It ought to be easier, though, for people to get a second chance. Education is the way to get back on track. Let’s make it a high priority not just K-12, but K-life.
Under your administration, college education saw an increase of almost 50 percent, which has led to higher student loans. How would you control that as president?
College tuition in Florida is about the best deal you’ll ever get. If you go to other states, you can see the enormous cost of public education. And because of Bright Futures, a lot of high-achieving kids can afford college. And we have probably the most robust community college system in all of the 50 states, which provides a great low-cost option for students. The problem with student debt can be solved by giving the universities skin in the game. We currently call full-time 12 credits. It used to be 15 credits. We have lowered the expectations. And now we measure degree completion in six years instead of four years. And all of that is paid with student loans. Maybe we ought to get the universities to become more outcome-based. We ought to make sure these degrees are purposeful and meaningful so that people know what the income level is expected to be. We need to make accountable our higher education system. If they can’t get our students through, they might need to provide some refunds. They don’t have classes on Fridays, because it’s about the adults, not about the students.
What are your thoughts on the events of Ferguson?
We need to have a dialogue in this country about the challenges in urban life. We’re creating a generation of young people who have no purpose. We have to be respectful of the fact that people are struggling and they are deserving of the same level of law enforcement available to more affluent communities. And we should not blame people as a broad social indictment because of the actions of a few. I don’t think we should ascribe some sort of broad problem with law enforcement. Twenty-four officers have lost their lives in the protection of their community so far this year. We should be respecting the job they do. It’s an important job, because these communities won’t be successful without them.
What are your thoughts on Donald Trump’s incendiary immigration statements?
The first thing people in Texas will tell you is that you can’t build a wall and solve this problem in our part of the country. The terrain is too rugged. You may American citizens on the other side of the wall. You couldn’t access the river, which is part of the agricultural economy down there. A wall is not the sole solution. It’s a simple thing to say but it’s not practical and it’s not conservative. It’s not feasible. There’s better ways to deal with it. Provide more support to local law enforcement so they can be the eyes and ears. Push the border patrol to the border. Use technology like drones and GPS. Eliminate this notion of sanctuary cities, which is a disaster for our country. But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud. I’m running for the presidency in the conservative party, which means I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars on an impractical solution. This guy is now the frontrunner. He should be held to account. How are you going to handle all the remittances without violating people’s civil liberties? This guy is appealing to their angst and their anger. I want to solve problems so that we can fix this and turn immigration into an economic driver for our country.
How will you protect the Christian community from being persecuted and forced to perform gay weddings?
This is where we need to take our stand. Religious freedom is the first freedom in this country. As a country as big and noble as ours, we should be able to say that you can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation but you shouldn’t force someone to participate in a religious ceremony that goes against their beliefs. There ought to be enough common ground to do that. I’m on the side of the baker and the florist. I’m on the side of the churches who ought to have the support of the First Amendment and should be able to continue their noble tradition of faith to so many people.
How do you feel about Planned Parenthood’s practices that have recently come to light?
When I was governor, I defunded Planned Parenthood. And we were the first state to increase funding for crisis pregnancy centers. They do noble work to give young mothers choices when they’re confronted with this really difficult issue. They provide money for the social work part of this so that the ministry part can continue. I think we ought to defund Planned Parenthood from Washington, DC. It’s a half a billion dollars. They have no right to get funding in perpetuity. There are great community organizations that provide women with healthcare across the country in local communities, and that is what we should be funding. But to harvest these unborn babies–this is not a fetus; it’s a child with a beating heart. We need to move away from that culture that does not respect life.