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Gov. Bush’s remarks at the 2013 Kemp Leadership Award Dinner

Updated: May 21, 2019

Remarks by: Governor Jeb Bush

28 October – Washington, DC

Thanks for the kind introduction, Ziad. Thanks as well to Speaker Boehner for his remarks tonight.

To all of the elected officials here, we appreciate your service.

Most importantly, thanks to the Jack Kemp Foundation and Joanne, Jimmy and the entire Kemp Family for the honor and the invitation to be here this evening.

It is a joy to join all of you to remember Jack Kemp and I’m truly honored to accept this award.

I’m thankful not just for Jack’s contributions to our nation, but for the opportunity to personally know him. Jack was a friend and a mentor, and like so many others in this room, I miss him.

As I prepared my remarks, I had memories of Jack Kemp and his importance in our society and his influence on me. And, the work of the Kemp Foundation to continue his legacy is very important.

These days, I often wonder “what would Jack Kemp do?”

I wonder what he would think about the downward course our nation has taken under President Obama in the last few years and the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington right now.

I would love to hear his prescriptions on the big issues we face – like how to jumpstart growth when the majority party in two-thirds of government is fixated on penalizing success.

I’m also locked in a pretty competitive Fantasy Football League with my family, so some tips from Jack on that front right now would be quite helpful as well.

But, thankfully, Jack has left an enduring legacy as a champion of policies that create growth and opportunity, and we can continue to draw lessons from his leadership for years to come.

When I was running for Governor in 1994, Jack was one of the first national leaders besides my Dad to come down and campaign for me. He was smart, charismatic, a tireless campaigner and a really fun guy to be around.

Before this event tonight, I looked through some old photos from the campaign trail, and found a picture of Jack, me and the late and great Margie Kincaid from back then. Margie and her husband Bill were pioneers in local Republican politics dating back to the 1950s and Margie ruled the Hillsborough GOP with an iron fist. She was tough!

Man, when the good looking and brilliant Jack Kemp showed up to endorse me, she was on Cloud 9 – like a teenager at her first Bieber concert.

But, Jack’s appeal went far beyond the Republican grassroots, where he had strong admiration and support.

What struck me the most when we campaigned together in Florida was the strong positive reaction he would get from nearly everyone. We would go into places like a public housing project in Tampa where you could not fathom a staunch conservative getting cheers and applause, but there he was, raking in the standing ovations.

He would campaign in places Republicans don’t normally hang out – which, by the way, I recommend for Republican candidates. Try it. You’ll actually like it. It is fun to get outside your comfort zone.

Jack’s appeal was broad because he worked hard to be inclusive, to reach out to all people. He understood the power and necessity of successful communication and was not afraid to passionately press his case for conservative governing principles, regardless of the audience.

He knew conservative policies could, and should, be attractive across races, across income brackets and across cultures because they are the policies of aspiration and equality.

We are a center right country but conservatives won’t govern again soon unless we adopt the Kemp example to get outside our comfort zones, and to listen, learn and persuade.

If he was with us now, I think he would agree we have strayed from the politics of winning, from the policies of opportunity and from achieving the governing needed to accomplish big things.

Jack also lived the notion that a hopeful, inspirational message would always be more effective than negativity or divisiveness.

True leaders are optimists. You can’t effectively lead or persuade if you can’t provide hope for the future, regardless of the efficacy of your ideas.

I have learned so much from him.

Right now, our nation finds itself struggling with how to realize policies that expand, not contract, opportunity for more Americans.

Here are some deeply disturbing facts:

In 2010, 33% of all American families had a net worth of zero or less.

The average duration of unemployment in the US is three times longer today than it was in 2000.

The number of people on food stamps has grown from 17 million in 2000 to 48 million today.

The number of people receiving SSI disability payments is ten times more than in 1980, even though the number of people with disabilities is in decline.

The percentage of people who own homes is lower than it was in 1980.

The same can be said of the worker participation rate.

If you are born poor, you are more likely to stay poor and if you are born rich, you are more likely to stay wealthy than at any time in modern history.

The anecdote to this is to restore, as Paul Ryan coined it, the Right to Rise, the right to pursue economic opportunity and happiness.

Jack Kemp discussed this charge in terms of advancing the universal values of the “American Idea” of growth, freedom, democracy and hope.

Tonight, I want to talk about a few policies that can do just that.

First, our greatest vehicle for reigniting social and economic mobility is education.

Every child has the capacity to learn, so that means the classroom is where we either create opportunity, or end it.

Education can be the great equalizer in closing the income divide in America, but that means every child must have access to a great school and great teachers.

Today in America, that does not exist.

Failing schools result in the reverse. Students who drop out of school without achieving a high school diploma are likelier to possess a lifelong dependency on government; likelier to be unable to provide for their families and likelier to end up in the correctional system.

Education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, but dramatically raising the quality of education in America is also essential for sustaining our competitive posture in the world and securing our long-term economic future.

Thankfully, there are proven reforms that are being implemented in growing pockets throughout our nation that we know work. Key to improving education is the widespread embrace of: higher standards, including the Common Core; more accountability; much more parental choice; the end of social promotion; policies to improve the quality of teaching in classrooms; and more innovation and technology.

Improving education was my first priority as Governor. It was where my passions were and they continue to be, and the reason you asked me to join you tonight.

Assuring that more than a quarter of our children are truly college or career ready should be a national priority and conservatives, in alliance with whomever will join us, need to lead the transformation to a child-centered system. We believe God has given every child the ability to learn and it’s up to adults to organize education differently to make it happen.

In a right to rise society, success is not measured by the haves and have nots, it is measured by whether the next generation is prepared to pursue earned success.

Next, while much of the debate over our nation’s immigration policies has been dominated by explosive political rhetoric, the conversation has largely ignored the economic imperative of fixing a broken system.

We are rapidly moving toward an aging population which means less productive and fewer workers, lower growth and increasing burdens on the next generation.

I’m not sure people under the age of 40 fully appreciate what is going to hit them. Once they do, they’re going to be a little resentful and we’ll have significant challenges as a nation. It is better to solve this problem today.

Jack Kemp anticipated this paradigm as well as anyone. National Review earlier this year recollected how nearly two decades ago Jack warned fellow Republicans against fostering a “nativist, anti-immigration climate.”

Unlike most of the world, the United States has a tried and true solution to our demographic time bomb, and it is immigration.

As the number of businesses started by native-born Americans declined between 1996-2011, the business start-up rate among immigrants soared by 50 percent.

So when we talk about immigration reform, let’s start with this in mind: If someone wants to contribute to America’s growth, let’s have a system that lets it happen. Let’s remove the roadblocks and bureaucratic nonsense and restore a key element of who we are as a nation – our immigrant heritage, based on the rule of law.

Third, we must acknowledge our nation’s lack of a market-based energy strategy is holding back our economy and our citizens.

We are the most energy abundant nation in the world. We have more than 100 years of natural gas, billions of barrels of reserves of oil, and we are a source of inspiration and innovation for conservation, renewables and traditional extraction of energy.

Yet last year, $300 billion of dollars went out of our country without any economic benefit to pay for imported oil.

Much of these billions go to countries other than Mexico and Canada, our neighbors, which either hate us now or are politically unstable and could quickly learn to hate us.

The most transformative development since the Internet was commercialized is the combination of two existing innovations: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking.

This domestic oil and gas revolution allows us to have a whole host of new opportunities to empower people to be successful and live lives of purpose and meaning. We can reindustrialize with the lowest cost power in the world, dramatically reducing costs for consumers and creating thousands of high-wage jobs in the U.S.

And, we already know what these policy solutions are – it’s the politics we must overcome. It’s time to: approve the Keystone Pipeline for crying out loud; rationally, not ridiculously, regulate fracking; open federal lands and waters for drilling; and, let market forces, not crony-capitalism, decide where to invest and how to incentivize citizens to conserve.

Think of all the construction jobs, many of them union jobs by the way, that will be created – high-wage jobs that allow us to integrate a North American energy strategy that makes us energy secure within five years. It is within our grasp to do it.

A real energy strategy could get us an additional 1 percent of economic growth over the long haul. One percent over a decade creates half a Germany in the tenth year, something like $500 billion of recurring tax revenues for government at all levels without raising taxes.

The fourth thing I suggest to you is no amount of good public policy will matter if we don’t focus on a shared belief that strong families and faith are the backbone of any American renewal.

Unfortunately, we’re facing a crisis on the family front. The latest Census numbers reflect this. A 42% out of wedlock rate is just one of the breathtaking statistics that describes family life in America today. The family structure in the U.S. as we have known it for centuries is crumbling.

Those on the left instinctively call for a government program, a transfer payment, a rule or a regulation as a solution. But, you know that Government cannot fill this void.

Jack once said, “The kind of people we become…is determined not by the government but by the nature of our families, our churches and synagogues, our schools and colleges.”

He remains right. There are fantastic faith and community-based groups providing support for America’s families. In addition, leaders like Mike Lee have proposed changes in our tax code to further support child rearing families. Those initiatives should be supported.

Restoring committed family life doesn’t require the growth of government. It requires a cultural shift where the role of families and faith in empowering individuals to succeed is at the center of who we are as a nation.

Transforming education; an economically driven immigration system true to our heritage; an energy policy based on American innovation and North American resources; and committed family life will restore prosperity for many more Americans than the policies being implemented by progressives today.

But, economic freedom in all of its forms will sustain that prosperity over the long haul. No one understood that better or was more articulate on this subject than Jack Kemp.

Jack was a prime architect and advocate of the policies driving modern American supply-side economics and tearing down the barriers of entry into the capitalist system for those left behind.

Those policies led to the exponential growth we enjoyed in the 1980s under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, and many more people benefited from that growth than what we have today.

Conservatives need to advance economic freedom through a simplification of the tax code and lower tax rates. Think of the lost productivity, the lost jobs and the misallocated capital from the most convoluted tax code in the world.

Conservatives need to advance economic freedom through advocating a monetary policy that doesn’t punish savers and job-creating small businesses. Our current policy rewards portfolio America and hurts paycheck America while enabling the greatest sustained deficits in American history.

Conservatives need to advance economic freedom by working to repeal Obamacare and replacing it with a system that is consumer directed, less coercive and less costly.

Conservatives need to advance economic freedom by tearing down the barriers created by the mind-numbing rules, regulations, fees and licenses at every level of government that stifle job creation and innovation and do not reward the spirit and determination necessary in life.

If Jack Kemp were with us today, I am very confident he would be advocating an American renewal by embracing freedom in every way.

I wanted to end on a couple final notes about our friend, Jack Kemp.

Jack was a compassionate man and an ideas man. It is interesting we find ourselves as a party, and a movement and as a nation confronting many of the same policy challenges Jack predicted and presented solutions to decades ago – from immigration to private sector growth to education reform.

First, I was honored when Jack agreed to serve as honorary chairman of The Foundation for Florida’s Future. I asked him, thinking he would say ‘no’, but he said ‘yes’. Wow. That was the greatest call I’ve ever had in my life.

This was the think tank we launched in Florida. We stole every possible idea from him we could. And, when I was fortunate the second time around to be elected Governor, it became about putting these ideas into practice to make sure that more people had a chance to be successful and live lives of purpose.

Second, I want to highlight what Jack believed – that his family was his legacy.

Joanne was his college sweetheart, his rock and a wise political advisor. And, nothing made him more content than spending time on the tennis courts, ski slopes or in bookstores with his family, including his children – Jeff, Jennifer, Judith and Jimmy – and his 17 grandchildren, 6 of whom are here tonight — Kyle, Jennifer, Jackie, Jonah, Marco and Benji.

I once read that Jack never missed one of Jeff or Jimmy’s football games. I can attest that’s a difficult challenge to meet given a busy travel schedule, but knowing Jack’s love for football and family, I believe it.

I also know he made it to a bunch of ballet recitals and non-football related activities for Jennifer and Judith.

The work being undertaken by the Jack Kemp Foundation to build upon his legacy and advance his ideas today and in the future is really important.

The fact that you all are here providing support for that warms my heart.

Thank you again for this honor.

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