Delivering the keynote address at the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit on Thursday, former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush offered his roadmap to a new USA – educated, well employed and civil.
His address to the 550 in attendance at the El Paso convention center was outside standard party boundaries and decidedly progressive for the brother of former Republican president and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But not so far from his father, former vice president and statesman, George H.W. Bush.
Introduced by El Paso business leader Woody Hunt, who described him as the epitome of public service, patriotism and civility, Bush said the road to a country that’s better educated and better employed will require immigration reform and, above all, a new way of dealing with political differences.
But before getting serious he described how he met and fell in love with his wife to be, Columba Garnica Gallo, in Mexico when he was 17, and what she told him when he asked her the first time.
“She said I was too tall, and no,” he said. They were married four years later in Austin.
So, he said, he has a strong connection to Mexico and went on to praise El Paso for maintaining its ties across the border, and for the relations in the community.
But citing the recent ambush of nine Mormons with dual citizenship who were on their way to Juárez, he talked about the troubling situation across the border.
“El Paso has a lot of things right, but there is this thing that is deeply troubling, which is the level of violence that ultimately is going to impact investment decisions in this region,” he said.
Letting the violence continue will not do, he said, and the Mexican national government must find a way to stop it – with support from the U.S.
That should be a higher priority for the U.S. government, which has its own disruptive problems in Washington.
“Today, there is no center; there’s perpetual gridlock, and I think it is a threat to our democracy,” he said.
In the face of everything going on today, Bush said a good start would be the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, or what he called NAFTA 2.0.
“There’s broad support for it,” he said. “But in Washington, D.C., even when there’s support, they don’t seem to be able to find consensus.
“Imagine what El Paso and Mexico would look like if, in 1992 or ’93, President Clinton did not sign the NAFTA 1.0. What would happen? Instead of having $150 million in trade growing to $750 million, my guess is that trade number would probably be less than half.”
Mexico would be substantially poorer without NAFTA, and El Paso would hardly be the city it has become, he said.
Next, the U.S. needs immigration reform, he said, and was interrupted by applause.
But it’s not just to be nice to the neighbors or even because there’s a huge demand for more workers, many more, in a time of full employment with trouble looming in the not too distant future.
U.S. demographics are dramatically changing, and young people no longer vastly outnumber older ones who are living longer and racking huge deficits in federal programs.
“It is impossible under the immigration policies that we have to take care of the $50 trillion net present value deficit that we have on our four entitlement programs: Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and Obamacare,” Bush said.
Immigration reform also means solving the problem 2 million “Dreamers” have, facing possible deportation.
Along with those who were brought to the U.S. as children, he said, there has to be a way for the millions of illegal immigrants who have lived here for years to remain, come out of the dark, pay a fine and keep working.
“Even with the toxic administration in Washington, we’re not going to deport 10 million people,” Bush said. “It would be the most un-American act, the cost of which would be in the billions, and it would disrupt family life all across the country.”
Then there’s the U.S. education system, which is lagging behind better systems all around the world.
“We lag way behind them, yet we spend more per student than any country in the world,” he said.
Bush pointed to significant changes he pushed in Florida that quickly moved that state ahead of others, starting with universal pre-K for four-year-olds – all four-year-olds.
“Florida’s Hispanic kids are two grade levels of Hispanic kids in California,” he noted.
During Bush’s address, El Paso businessman Ruben Guerra commented that he sounded as if he were considering joining the presidential race on the Republican side.
“I thought it was a very compelling speech, and one that had a lot of balance and fairness,” Guerra said afterward.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.