Jeb Bush was no moderate as governor
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While he has yet to declare his candidacy, all signs point to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush entering into what is rapidly becoming a crowded field vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

As the son of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, and the brother of the 43rd, George W. Bush, should Jeb Bush become the Republican nominee and win in 2016, the Bush family would become the first to have three members serve as chief executive, breaking the tie it currently holds with the Adams family, the Harrisons and the Roosevelts.

While it is perspicuous to conclude at this juncture that should Bush announce his candidacy, that he will be able to tap into his family's deep reserves of political operatives and fundraisers among the Republican establishment, the problem, many experts conclude, is that Bush is viewed as too moderate to survive a rigorous Republican primary where many of his opponents will try to outflank each other on the right.


Having lived in Florida while Bush was governor, however, I find it curious — if not specious — that the "moderate" label is gaining any traction as it was clear that during his tenure in office, Bush was a true conservative.

In 1994, Bush ran unsuccessfully for governor against the populist Democratic incumbent, Lawton Chiles. Four years later, Bush, calling himself a "pragmatist" frequently on the campaign trail, made a conscious effort to reach out to black voters. Some of the state's top black leaders, including T. Willard Fair of the Urban League, championed Bush as one who would be willing to extend himself to the black community as a consensus candidate, particularly with respect to education and economic development. That fall, I was among the record 14 percent of black voters who cast a ballot for Bush.

What we soon learned was that Bush was no moderate pragmatist on certain core issues crucial to blacks; rather, he was wedded to core conservative viewpoints that comprised — then and now — the Manichean view of the modern Republican Party, one that draws rigid lines in the sand between conservative and progressive thought with little room for nuance.

During his first term, Bush eliminated affirmative action in Florida. This move drew harsh protests from the state's minority community and heavily impacted minority business contracting with the state and enrollment at the University of Florida and other predominantly white institutions.

Bush restructured the state's higher educational system by eliminating the centralized Board of Regents in favor of each university developing a board of trustees that would provide general oversight. Many critics suggest that this move left Florida A&M University, the lone historically black university in the system — only three years removed from being named the TIME/Princeton Review College of the Year — vulnerable with respect to procuring dollars and program offerings from a legislature filled with graduates from the larger, predominantly white, state universities.

In 2003, Bush, true to his Catholic faith and pro-life leanings, fought assiduously to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case, against her husband's wishes. Bush was extremely critical of the court system — using the pejorative "activist court" phrase that is popular among conservatives — when Michael Schiavo was allowed by court order to end his wife's life.

Then in 2005, Bush, appeasing conservative Second Amendment activiststs, signed the "Stand Your Ground" law into law. Over the past three years, the law has been the center of two high-profile cases — Trayvon Martin's and Jordan Davis's — two young black men who were killed by men who suggested that they did so in self-defense.

Cognizant of this conservative background, one that includes a penchant for fiscal austerity, I find it curious that Bush has been branded a moderate by some of his Republican detractors. I suspect that Bush is being miscast as such for one reason: his support of immigration reform.

As to immigration, the modern Republican Party has all but become a bastion of xenophobia. On any given day, most right-wing pundits rail against border crossings and call for the establishment of tighter border security. The more xenophobic cry for border fences — including electric border fences — to prevent illegal crossing from Mexico. As such, Bush's reasoned and pragmatic approach to this issue places him at odds with the fervor that will propel many primary voters forward next winter and spring.

Bush's mentee, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs Voters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican MORE (R), Florida's junior senator — already a declared Republican presidential candidate — once shared his mentor's pragmatism. But with the White House potentially on the line, Rubio has already reversed his position to make himself palatable for conservative voters. Bush, however, is continuing to stand firm — for now. Just last week, Bush switched his position on the Iraq War (that his brother waged) four times in one week as he sought to strike the right tone, one that would not offend his brother while also aligning him with the current sentiment of potential primary voters. It will be interesting to see whether Bush, whose wife, Columba, is Mexican-American, will flip on immigration to reestablish his conservative bona fides.

Hobbs is a trial lawyer and award-winning freelance writer based in Tallahassee, Fla. Hobbs is also a former adviser to the Republican Party of Florida and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Follow him on Twitter @RealChuckHobbs.