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Jeb Bush on the Importance of Family

Air Date 04/13/2015

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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush discusses his family heritage and the importance of the sanctity of human life, the protection of religious freedom and civil engagement in cultural issues.

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today we have a special guest in the studio, Jim.

Jim Daly: We do, John. We are pleased to have the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush with us today. He was a two-term governor from 1999 to 2007. And you know, I noticed when he was governor, he was leading out of conviction. And in fact, he was governor when Terri Schiavo passed away and that was almost 10 years ago. We're certainly not celebrating that time, but we are recognizing that 10 years ago he had those very difficult decisions to make, to either stand for life or stand against it. And he chose to stand behind the parents of Terri Schiavo, to keep her alive. He did not prevail and many of us in the pro-life movement felt terrible about that.

He's in Colorado and we thought it'd be good to take an opportunity to hear his heart for the family and more about his own family, which I think is really fun. Let me simply welcome you, Jeb to the broadcast.


Jim: Let me simply welcome you, Jeb to the broadcast..

Governor Jeb Bush: Thank you, what an honor to be here.

Jim: I want to start with a story that I know about you and this came in a really strange way. We have a restaurant nearby here at Focus on the Family. And the manager of this restaurant used to be a UPS driver and he used to deliver packages to your mom and dad's house in Houston.

Jeb: Wow.

Jim: And he said your mom and dad were awesome. He would deliver a package on a hot Houston day and your mom would have lemonade and cookies out for him and sit and ask about his family and his wife. And you and W would be playin' basketball. (Laughing)

Jeb: This must have been away back.

Jim: This is way back and—

Jeb: Yeah.

Jim: --but what a great picture of realness. And he said, "I will do anything for the Bushes." He said, "That family, I saw them in that context and they were real people and good people." Is that what you remember?

Jeb: I remember that completely. I tell the story a lot about when I woke up in Midland, Texas. And my little eyes opened. I didn't know that I had won the lottery when I woke up and I was next to Barbara Bush. I mean, in the sense that, this woman and my dad is the greatest man I'll ever know. I mean, it's truly a blessing to be brought up in a way where you know, I was loved with all their heart and all their soul. And I was taught the habits that, you know, allow you to live a successful life. And you think about that today in America and not everybody has that blessing. It truly is one and all my mistakes have been my own. I certainly (Laughter) can't ascribe any of 'em my upbringing. My parents are just very special.

Jim: Well, now how did you let your brother beat you to writing the book about your dad?

Jeb: (Laughing) You know, given the fact that they have this historic position of being both served as President, there was a lot of, in the press and other people, a lot of navel gazing about their (Laughter) relationship, you know--

Jim: Sure.

Jeb: --about how well it must be, you know, "they have a strained relationship." And I think my my brother has the same feeling about my dad as I do.

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: And I think he wanted to share that love of his dad. And so, he did it and he's pretty good at this now. He's also a pretty good painter for some odd reason. I never (Laughter) saw that in him.

Jim: Your brother's--

Jim, John and Jeb: [Talking all at once]

Jim: --an artist. Okay, I gotta ask you though. There's gotta be a scrap fight in your past with your brother when you really went at it. You gotta tell us that story.

Jeb: Well, he was always older—

Jim: Much older. (Laughing)

Jeb: --seven years older. So he had total domination until I turned about 13 ½ and grew about eight inches in one year.

Jim: You are quite a bit taller than him.

Jeb: So, I was 6'4" and that we created a little peace in the (Laughter) in the--

Jim: That was the end of the—

Jeb: --the relationship.

Jim: --fights.

John: Big time.

Jeb: Yeah.

Jim: Well, it shows that he is quite smart. (Laughing)

Jeb: He is very smart.

Jim: Hey, let me ask you this, moving to a different topic. When you look at the issue of life, when you were governor in Florida, you had, you know, a highly covered case with Terri Schiavo.

Here in Colorado, when we're talking about this issue of life generally, we've had this horrific situation where this expectant mother, seven months along, a former nurses's aide, allegedly drugged the woman and did a C-section and took that baby from her womb.

And here in Colorado, many of us in the pro-life movement and others are saying, this woman should be charged with attempted murder or murder. The baby died in that situation. But here in Colorado, babies aren't protected in the womb in that way. Even a viable baby like that, there's no murder charge coming against that woman.

Talk about life in general. I know these are very specific cases, but what's your perspective on it? What do we do as a nation to regain the moral equilibrium here to say, a baby in the womb is important and should be important to all of us?

Jeb: In our society, we have consistently, you know, it plays out almost every week. There's an example of conflicting rights under the law. And I think in the case of unborn children or the most vulnerable, I mean, I think this is an issue not just among the unborn, but also people that, there's a big movement now, increasing number of assisted suicides.

John: Uh-hm.

Jeb: The most vulnerable in our society need to be protected. They need to have legal rights. And as a society, we need to recognize their value and their worth. And so, as governor, informed by a deeply held belief that was informed by my faith, I tried to persuade people first. I was not I don't think being judgmental and kind of coming down from the podium and telling them how it's gonna be is the proper approach. You need to be respectful of the fact that in a diverse society, that people have different views about this, but I don't think you pull back from your deeply held views. You need to persuade people that protecting an innocent child is a definition of who we are in the broadest possible sense.

So, in Florida, I got a chance to do that. We put restrictions around abortion clinics that weren't regulated like regular medical clinics.

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: We supported, and ruled unconstitutional the first time, parental consent and then we now have parental notification. We banned partial birth abortions. We created many more options for adoption out of foster care and in general. We were the only state, I believe, to have funded with state monies crisis pregnancy centers to provide counselors so that these not-for-profits that in many cases aren't as well funded as many others, could act on their mission, which is to provide broader support, but the actual counseling was done, you know, paid for by the state. It was a godsend for these crisis pregnancy centers and a lot of babies' lives were saved and a lot of families got the joy of being able to bring a child up in their home.

Jim: Hm.

Jeb: I mean so, Terri Schiavo's another example of this where our loss in our country, and in Florida in particular, made it hard for us to do this, and ultimately, you know, Terri starved to death. It was like 10 years ago and two weeks I guess now. So I think we need to have a broader conversation about why we want to protect the most vulnerable, whether it's the developmentally disabled or people, at the end of their life or a child that's being brought into the world. We're defining ourselves by advocating for them.

Jim: Yeah, in the case of Terri Schiavo, I remember many of us were so supportive of the courage it took as governor for you to step out there, because it, you know, in a culture that doesn't understand these concepts, you can take it on the chin. You're called all kinds of things.

Jeb: Yeah.

Jim: And that happened in your case--

Jeb: It sure did.

Jim: --and people, people, at first, stood with you and then they kind of began to dwindle didn't they? They stepped back some and thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

Jeb: We did this--

Jim: Any regrets?

Jeb: --no; I mean, I did this all within the confines of the power I had. And I was respectful of the fact that when I was elected and re-elected I put my hand on the Bible to swear to uphold the laws of the State of Florida.

And that's a sacred oath and so I didn't go beyond my authority. We passed laws, that were ruled unconstitutional a year later. We did what we could, but the simple fact is that as a society, we need to have this conversation, not in the midst of a crisis. We need to have a broader conversation in advance of this, because, one thing I know for certain is, that we're all getting older together--

Jim: (Chuckles)

Jeb: --and these end-of-life issues are going to become--

Jim: Yeah.

John: Yes.

Jeb: --hugely important and if, you know the case of a, there's just a lot of cases now where people are saying I'm moving to a state where I can take my life. What happens if, you know, there's not a guardian to take care of someone in that regard? What happens if that person has a change of heart and it's too late? There's a lot of issues that I think we need to sort out in a much more civil way in our society rather than react to it, something that's happening kind of, you know, in real time.

Jim: No, it's a good thing for a society to contemplate.

Jeb: One of the things I know that people that listen faithfully to your show probably, I believe you talk to them about is advance directives--

Jim: Uh-hm.

Jeb: --to have these kind of really the end-of-life issues--

Jim: Right.

Jeb: --to have these conversations early and often with your loved ones to be able to sort this out in a calm loving way rather than reacting once your loved one's in the hospital.

Jim: Right. Let's talk about religious liberty. A lot of us in the Christian community are concerned, because it definitely seems today that religious freedoms are being curtailed. And we see court case after court case. And of course, we have the Supreme Court case coming up on the definition of marriage and many of us are anticipating that's not gonna be favorable, that they're gonna redefine marriage as we have known it for all these years. When you look at religious liberties in this country, what concerns you as a former governor? And what do you think needs to be done to protect everybody? This is a pluralistic culture. I get that.

Jeb: Yeah.

Jim: But boy, it seems like religious freedom is core to who we are as Americans.

Jeb: I completely agree. In fact, this interestingly is a global issue—

Jim: Huh.

Jeb: --as well, because there's to be first—

Jim: Boy, yeah.

Jeb: --I mean, religious freedom could mean the death of someone, you know, around the world, as well. Christians are being persecuted in a pace and the depth of which has never in modern times, we had not seen—

Jim: Correct.

Jeb: --so we always have to be mindful of that. But as it relates to our own country, I do think that we need to take a stand, that a big country as noble and with its history as a beacon of freedom basically, we're the last great, best hope for freedom. And we've been that way for a long while, that amongst ourselves, we oughta figure out a way how we can sort out the fact that people aren't gonna be discriminated against under the law and that people have the right space to act on their conscience.

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: It is a non-negotiable point, because if we start, you know, what other element of the Bill of Rights is next, if the First Amendment right, if that's gone, then what's next? I mean, this is a slippery slope and this has to be sorted out in a different way than having a crisis, you know, occur in a state capital and then have this avalanche of opposition, where people are just, you know, worried about the economic repercussions, rather than having a more civil conversation about how we sort this out to protect people's religious freedoms.

Jim: Well, I couldn't agree more and I think it's so important. For a second here, let's just talk about attitude, that attitude in the public square. Your family's been involved in politics your entire life. Your dad served as President and prior that vice president for Ronald Reagan. He was a congressman, Ambassador to China, the head of the CIA. He served as a pilot, which has been a great part of his story. What a wonderful model for all of us.

When you look around though and you see the public square and the polarization that has happened, why is it not working? Why can't we have civil conversations today?

Jeb: I mean, there are [sic] probably more than one reason for this, but I'm not gonna encourage people to follow me on Twitter because your children probably couldn't read most of this stuff. I mean, don't know.

Jim: Yeah, the vitriol.

Jeb: The vitriol is unbelievable and it is what it is. I think people in public life need to first of all, think wow. Everything can't be "them and us." There has to be a way where we forge some consensus orientation again. And that's accepting the fact that in a divided country and we certainly are that right now, people are gonna have different views and you have to be tolerant of people's views, but you have to express your views in a way [that] it's important not to pull back.

And I think we have to figure out new ways to have conversations about these things, rather than everything be viewed as from a political angle. I think about this a lot, because I do know that if we fix a few big complex things in our country, this is gonna be the greatest time to be alive as Americans. I honestly believe that. We're gonna live next week, God willing, next week, I think, yeah, at the end of the week, my fourth grandchild's gonna come into the world.

And he'll come into the world in Austin, Texas. He'll have great parents, George and Mandy. And it's likely that he'll live till he's 130, 140. That's the world we're movin' towards. It's not inevitable. We could mess it up, but the cures of diseases are on our doorstep, the ability to live lives of purpose and meaning are there for the taking.

But it won't happen unless we begin to solve some of these fundamental cultural problems and moral problems that we have in our country and I think we have to have a different kind of conversation. And it's not gonna happen unless we figure out how we tax and how we regulate in a 21st century way—

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: --which requires that consensus kind of leadership that Ronald Reagan did, my dad did. Now it's harder and harder to do. I think the harder work is to find the common ground between people that may not agree on anything else. Forge that consensus and move on and build on it and make it a political virtue.

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: Right now you're considered weak if you actually think that you're solving a problem,which that doesn't work historically.

Jim: Right, ex—

Jeb: --in our country.

Jim: --exactly.

Jeb: It never worked.

Jim: It doesn't seem reasonable. Jeb, I want to touch on another issue important to our nation today. You know, immigration is a big one.

Jeb: Yep.

Jim: And you have taken some heat and I want to give you a chance to explain your perspective. Talk about even your family reflects diversity, your wife.

Jeb: Sure.

Jim: You met in Mexico from what I understand. I'd love to hear a little bit of that story, but talk about … talk about immigration and the way that you have come to the conclusions that you've come to.

Jeb: Well, first as it relates to my wife, it hasn't really driven my views about comprehensive changes in our broken immigration system, but, it's created an architecture around my life. My love for my wife is really something important to me.

Jim: How did you meet?

Jeb: I met her when I was 17 and she was 16 and I met her in a uniquely Spanish-Colonial way. Since you know, the beginning of time almost, in the town square of any Spanish town or Spanish-Colonial town, after mass, men would walk clockwise or counter-clockwise I guess and women would walk with a chaperone the other way. And that's how they would meet their spouse-to-be.

And so, a modern version of that in 1970 occurred when I saw her driving with her sister. And I fell in love at first sight.

Jim: And you were in Mexico at the time.

Jeb: I was in Leon, Mexico, now a thriving metropolis of about a million people. Back then it was far smaller. And it put an order in my life. Everything about what I was before, changed in the sense that I wanted to marry her.

I got out of college in two years because of it. I married her when I just turned 21 and she was 20 and we started our life together. So, while that's not part of the immigrant experience, I guess I don't fear it, because I have been blessed to have the experience of being married to a woman who became a citizen in 1980 to vote for my dad.

Jim: (Chuckling) Oh, man.

Jeb: I was another vote in Texas.

Jim: Think of that. But talk about now your immigration application.

Jeb: Yeah, so we have a system. Our immigrant heritage, our immigrant experience is one that has made us an extraordinary nation. Legal immigration in this country adds a vitality to our country. It works, because historically, our national identity has been based on a set of shared values, not on some kind of exclusionary belief or race or in the case of Europe, they allow immigrants in, but aren't perceived, don't believe that they are full citizens.

In America, if you work hard and play by a set of rules, you can be anything you want to be. You can be as American as someone who came in the Mayflower. And that extraordinary system has created, has partially created at least, the greatness of our country and we've lost it. So, what I advocate is, respect the rule of law, enforce the borders. Coming here illegally should be a lot harder than coming legally, and today, it's the exact opposite in many cases.

Jim: That's a good point.

Jeb: We need to restore a sense of, that when you break the law, there should be a consequence. That is for certain. I don't know many people that believe that we should just have open borders. It would be a disaster. And we've seen the implications of that by not enforcing our border.

But just stopping there, I think makes it harder for us to reach our destiny, which should be high sustained economic growth where people have a chance to achieve, earn success in their lives. Immigrants can play a critical role in growing our economy far faster. So, what I advocate is narrowing the number of people that come by family and creating an economic strategy around hard-driving, aspiring immigrants that could create economic vitality for the country.

Jim: Well, and it sounds like a smart strategy.

Jeb: And what we need to do, I believe, for the 11 million people that are here illegally, is create a path to earn legal status. Look, I mean, people did get in the front of the line, so they should pay fines. They should work and not receive government assistance. They should learn English. And they should earn legal status.

The other options really haven't been fleshed out. I just don't know what the open would be of deporting, rounding up people and deporting them. I think it will be a messy deal. But I think you can create the balance of respect for the rule of law and embracing the traditional immigrant heritage of our country, for our country to move forward and to do better.

This is the best country on the face of the earth. Its history is noble. It is an inspiration to the rest of the world. And our civics education, focusing on our history, our heritage, how the Founders created—

Jim: Yeah.

Jeb: -- the Constitution and—

Jim: Brilliant.

Jeb: --created this country, all of that stuff needs to be reinvigorated. So, I would say, the citizenship test should be a lot harder, and all Americans, and those that are aspiring to be Americans, oughta understand it, 'cause that's the shared values. That's where you start with the sense that we're all in this together. Without that, immigration becomes more of a challenge.

Jim: Well, and I appreciate that, and I think one of the things I'm concerned about as a Christian, our attitude, you know, when we really are so polarized that we can't see the humanity in people. And you know, quite frankly, if I were in their shoes, if I were in a poor village on the border of a very affluent country and I could go and make more money to feed my children, I would do it, because that's what a father would do. And in some ways, we lose in this debate, in this argument, we're losing compassion, which should be the earmark of the Christian. It doesn't mean lawlessness, but how do we balance as our Christian faith—

Jeb: Well …

Jim: --commands us to?

Jeb: I think that is part of what motivates me to not pull away from this belief of a broader approach to immigration. You could see why people are angry about this. So, I think we need to restore common sense and the rule of law in all of this, as well. But our immigrant experience can't be denied as a critical element of the uniqueness of this country. It's a very special part of who we are.

Jim: Let me turn on another one that's a bit controversial, your support for Common Core.

Jeb: Right.

Jim: We've got two children. John, you've got kids in school.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: My boys are in eighth grade and sixth grade and we pulled them out when they did the testing here in Colorado, because we had heard a lot of negative things about Common Core. Give us your perspective.

Jeb: So, Common Core state standards were standards created by 45 states voluntarily together, the National Governor's Association, 45 governors and the state school officers, commissioners of education or some title like that.

And the idea for reading and for math was to make the standards, not the curriculum or the content or anything else, the standard high enough that if you assess to those standards faithfully, you would have a college- or career-ready student at the end of the journey.

And that's in essence, what it is. What I'm for, the commonality of this is important, but the more important thing is higher, higher standards. We need to have much higher expectations for our kids. A third of our kids are college- and/or career-ready by the time they get to the end of 12th grade.

We have an 80 percent graduation rate in high school and roughly half of them aren't ready to go to college. They have to take high school math and high school reading over again and they're certainly not ready to do a job.

So, that's the great challenge of our time, is that the haves and have-nots will be defined in two ways that, I think, more and more research is showing, family life and the communities around family life and education outcomes.

So, my motivation is that and the concerns would be, if the federal government started requiring states to do things against their interest. So, the solution to that and the privacy issue, which I think is a legitimate one going forward in a world that we're living in, where everything is, you know, out in the ether--

Jim: Right.

Jeb: --I mean, everything. So, protecting yourself as it relates to the cyber world's important. So, here's my suggest and I actually talked to the sponsor of the reauthorization of the federal law, that's now working its way through Congress for the reauthorization of the federal role in the K-12 education.

There should be no involvement by the federal government in the creation of standards or curriculum or content, directly or indirectly. And the federal government's role in privacy should be prohibited.

I think that is a better way of dealing with this, and then get to the bigger issue. The bigger issue is, how do we make sure that we have more than 40 percent of our kids college- and/or career-ready? And there, I think there's broader agreement, which is more school choice.

Jim: Right.

Jeb: Florida has the highest numbers of kids going to private or public schools and just a handful of states. We're a big state, so percentage-wise, we have the largest voucher program in the country. We have the largest program for the developmentally or learning disabled. A child in Florida whose parents [are] maybe not satisfied with their education in a public school, they can take the dollar-for-dollar state and local amount and go to a private option. Thirty thousand children do that. We have a robust home-school program. Florida virtual school is the largest virtual school and many, 30 percent, I believe, of the students participating in Florida virtual school are home-schooled kids. So, it's an addition to the homeschool environment.

Higher standards, more accountability, more school choice, making sure that children reach their God-given abilities needs to be the purpose of education and that's gotta be delivered locally and the reforms have to be created at the state. The federal government plays a[n] insignificant role in that.

Jim: No, I appreciate that clarification, but I think right now, the difficulty is how that's being manipulated or perceived to be manipulated.

Jeb: I think there's a legitimate concern about this, but this is all being implemented at the state level. And for those that want to opt out, because some states have opted out, that's fine, so long as the replacement are [sic] higher standards.

Jim: Right. This has been very enlightening and I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your service in Florida. Thank you to your family, you know, just seeing your dad. I've had a couple of interactions with him and of course, a couple with your brother. It's an amazing story. It's an amazing American story, your family's story.

Jeb: Well, Jim, thank you for invitin' me. Thank you for what you do to give encouragement for millions of families in America that they're on the right track. They're doin' the right thing and givin' 'em the resources and tools to not just encourage them, [but] to make it even stronger.

Jim: Well, and you and I talked off air about the importance of family being at the core and that's why I'm here, because I believe family is the No. 1 thing that this country needs to fight for, because when we have healthy families, we have a healthy culture.

Jeb: Jim, it's backed up by solid research now; it's backed up by some of the great intellectual thinkers from the left and right, Robert Putnam's book—

Jim: Right.

Jeb: --about this and Charles Murray's book about this. They have different conclusions of what the answer is, but they have pointed to the disruption of wholesome family life as one of the real challenges that our country faces. And much of the research validates what you do each and every day. And so, I want to give you all encouragement, as well.

Jim: That's right. Go for it, moms and dads! (Chuckling)

Jeb: Exactly.

Jim: Thanks again for bein' with us.

Jeb: Thank you.


John: We really appreciate the conversation today with former governor, Jeb Bush and that's a very kind word about what Focus on the Family is doing and the impact we're having. Hopefully, you really resonated with the comments about life and the value of parenting well and there has been so much that we've talked about today that is relevant to where the culture is at.

Now several issues affecting the family have come up today and we'd like to encourage you to sign up for a subscription to our Citizen magazine, which has 10 issues a year and will keep you informed with Christian perspectives on pro-life matters and religious freedoms and more. We also have articles online about a number of the subjects that we've touched on today. You can learn about Citizen magazine when you stop by or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow when we'll hear about ways that you can protect your marriage from the temptation of an affair, as we bring trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.

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Jeb Bush

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Jeb Bush served as the governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush. Prior to his role as Governor, Bush served as Florida's Secretary of Commerce from 1987-1988.  A graduate of the University of Texas, Bush worked as real estate developer and broker before entering his professional political career. He and his wife, Columba, have been married since 1974. The couple has three children and three grandchildren.