Join for a U-M Democracy & Debate signature event featuring Governor Jeb Bush in conversation with Ford School Dean Michael S. Barr. March, 2022.
0:00:26.0 Michael Barr: Good afternoon. I'm Michael Barr, Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, on behalf of myself and Anne Curzan, Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and my co-chair for the democracy and debate initiative. We want to welcome you all for today's session, American democracy, the path forward, a conversation with Governor Jeb Bush. Our program today is part of the University of Michigan's democracy and debate initiative, and the Ford School's conversations across differences series. I would like to thank the Tuft Family Foundation for their support of this important work. I would also like to thank the members of the Ford school staff and Governor Bush's staff for their work to make this event possible. As Dean of a policy school named after President Ford, I'm particularly pleased to welcome Governor Bush to the Ford School. The Ford family and the Bush family have long connections, friendships formed by the close, professional, and personal relationship between President Ford and President George H. W. Bush. Governor Bush has a long history of public service, including as Commerce Secretary of the State of Florida, and notably serving as Florida's governor for two terms from 1999 to 2007.
0:01:41.4 MB: He was also a Republican candidate for president during the 2016 race. He now serves as the chairman of the board of ExcelinEd, a non-profit organization that seeks policy solutions to increase student learning, advance equity and ready graduates for college and career. Governor Bush and I will be in a conversation, and then later in the program we'll be joined by two Ford School students. Bianca Shah is a current senior in the Ford School focusing on health policy. She serves as the Government Relations Coordinator for U of M central student government. Bianca is from Maryland, and she has advocated for youth and the South Asian community. Michael Hauser is a first year Master's student at the Ford School, focused on global democratic resilience. Prior to graduate school, he attended the US Air Force Academy and spent nearly eight years as an active duty Army infantry officer, after graduation, he hopes to continue serving as a State Department Foreign Service Officer. Now, let us turn to the conversation, Governor Bush. Welcome to the Ford School.
0:02:47.3 Jeb Bush: Good to be with you, Michael. And it's a real honor to participate in anything related to the Ford School and President Ford. I was always a big fan.
0:02:57.7 MB: Well, thank you, Governor. As I said in the introductions, I'm especially aware of those connections between your family and the Ford family, the shared value of public service, and I think our shared striving for politics better than we have today, so I'd like to start really with that family legacy. Your family has an extensive record of public service, your grandfather was a US Senator, your father was the president, vice president, representative, ambassador, Director of Central Intelligence for president Ford our namesake. And your brother was of course president. You were quite a distinguished governor and a leading figure now in education reform, I wonder if you could reflect on how that family legacy, how your father's model of public service might have influenced your own mode or method or values in public service.
0:03:55.0 JB: Yeah, that's a great question, Michael. First of all, I need to have an addendum to the Bush involvement in politics and public service, 'cause my son George P. Is a good time elected official in Texas and now running for Attorney General in a contested Primary, and my first granddaughter who's named... Whose name is Georgia Helena Walker Bush. We call her 41 because she has the same initials as my beloved dad, she's run for office from second grade on, she's a fifth grader, she's won twice and lost twice, so...
0:04:31.8 MB: That's great.
0:04:33.1 JB: Overcome all of the anxiety of running for office, and she's a really mighty fine president of her fifth grade class at the Montessori school down South, so I don't know, maybe it's a contagion that... Or it could be part of our DNA, but I think in my case, it was A, campaigning for my dad in 1980, and then the Reagan Bush campaign. I overcame all of the... Most people think politics is really weird and they don't wanna have much to do with it, but if you get involved in it, you realize it's pretty purposeful and it can be fun, it's not always [0:05:12.9] ____. And so I overcame some of my trepidation about it, but my main interest was to repay my dad, to be honest with you, to get involved, and then when I saw the potential as Secretary of Commerce of the role of governor particularly, I was motivated to serve because inspired by my dad in every way, he was the greatest man I ever met, and it wasn't any three-point plan that drove me to this, it was really inspired by a phenomenal guy, that I miss a lot, actually.
0:05:49.0 MB: Yeah, I could see that in the way that I've seen you talk about him before, and the way you're talking about him now, and I didn't get a chance to work with him, but I've heard from many people, both Democrats and Republicans, what a fine human being he was to work with.
0:06:04.4 JB: Well, Michael, I know that you worked in the Clinton administration, and much to the chagrin, at least, I will have to admit this, personally, for me, I was a little surprised that my dad befriended the guy that beat him in 1992, and that friendship really became really important for my dad, and certainly for President Clinton who I saw a month ago, and he's... Whether he likes it or not. We've adopted him in our family. So restoring some degree of that notion that if you can fight the hard fight in politics and in the policy world, but you can also be a friend. And so somehow we've gotta get back to that. I was talking to a Congressman, I won't name him, but he said that Republicans and Democrats in Congress don't even talk to one another, they don't even actually know each other, they don't know who their spouses are, they don't know what their background is particularly. It's not necessarily that there are any enemy, but there isn't that connectivity personally, and it's pretty easy to demonize people you don't know. It's really hard to do it if you have a human connection, right?
0:07:26.7 MB: I think that's right. I wanna focus our conversation a little bit next on some really, I think very difficult moments right now for the Republican Party. We're gonna talk some more about Republicans and Democrats together, but focusing on the Republican side for a bit. In a couple of weeks, we're gonna have Representative Cheney here in conversation with Representative Dingell, and as you know, Representative Cheney has been censured by the Republican party, not for her political beliefs, which are quite conservative, but because of her desire to support the investigation into the attack on the Capitol back on January 6. I'm wondering if you could reflect on the Republican party's choice to censure Representative Cheney, how you think about that, what it might tell us about where we are as a country.
0:08:26.5 JB: Well, first of all, I think it's always important to have a historical context, you're part of the academy, and a sense of history should be an element of everything you guys do, and this is not the only time in American history we've had strife. I think we were reflecting on this when we had our pre-call. I went to University of Texas, graduated in 1973, and I can remember like the six or seven years leading up to that as being extraordinarily crazy, with just turmoil across the board, riots, increased drug use, assassinations of incredible political leaders, a deeply divided country, Vietnam tore the country apart in many ways, Watergate, you go through all of these, and then a ruptured economic system in the late 70s, that was a tumultuous time. I'm not sure we're at the worst time in American history right now, so that would be my preface. Having said that, I don't wanna discount this idea that somehow if you... Liz Cheney should not be condemned, she should not be censured, she should not be kicked out of the Republican party.
0:09:40.4 JB: It wasn't that long ago that a Democrat would have thought that Liz Cheney was just a knucklehead right-wing fool, [chuckle] and now she's abandoned by the other knucklehead right-wing fools like me apparently, although I'm a supporter of hers and have written... Made contributions 'cause it's important for people with that kind of integrity to stay in the Republican party, but she's been abandoned and it's wrong. I don't quite get the whole phenomena of this new populism that is being personified by President Trump, particularly, it goes beyond that, both parties now have a popular strain that is more... Allows for more theater and less productivity in terms of public policy, implementation of policy, but I admire... I love Dick Cheney and I admire Liz Cheney for the same reason.
0:10:37.6 JB: Their compass points north, they love this country, they're willing to pay the price, a lot of scorn was heaped on her dad during my brother's tenure, mostly by people in the other party, and now Liz is being scorned by people in her own party for standing up for what's right, and if we don't support people like that, what's next? So, it does trouble me, I would say that the state of the Republican party looks a little different when you escape DC, we're 60% of statewide elected officials, more than two-thirds of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, governors, 33 of them, are Republican or 32. They wake up each day and they're figuring out how to accomplish an agenda that actually helps people, so we focus a lot on... Too much on the louder voices in the DC, those that tweet rather than legislate, they get all the attention, but outside of DC, it's not as crazy as it might look.
0:11:49.9 MB: That's certainly a helpful frame, and we do... I agree with you, we do try and talk about historical context a lot in the Ford School, and I do think that our political discourse tends to be very foreshortened in terms of perspective, but we've been through some very terribly rough times in American History, and have come out stronger on the other side. I think...
0:12:16.9 JB: I think there might be potential of doing that here, I don't see the... I'm not smart enough to know what good is gonna come out of challenging the basic essence of our election system and things that continue, or people feel either intimidated to say things that in their heart they know is not right. I don't understand why people feel compelled to do that, it's easy for me, I'm out of political life, there's a lot of pressures to conform because there's a lot of people really deeply disaffected and angry and hard to reason with people when they're acting on their fears and their angst rather than their hopes and dreams.
0:13:03.5 MB: How do you begin to change the conversation? When I look... I'm an outsider to the Republican Party, I come from a different political tradition, and so I may not fully grasp all of the nuance of what's going on internally in the party, I'd love a little bit of help thinking about this. So when you look at President Trump's brand of leadership, the populism that you described, and his attacks on the... On really, on the democratic system, that's a very different model of governance from President Ford or your dad or your brother in terms of how to think about leadership. So how do you think about pulling the Republican party away from that approach and towards maybe a more traditional model of governance?
0:14:01.7 JB: So I don't... The question that I think should be asked is, "How much of this is populism, that is... That President Trump has accelerated, how much of this Trump-ism that relates to him and him alone." I think a lot of it relates to, I think the trends of polarization started long before President Trump arrived, the angst that people feel because of a change in culture and the disruption of economic policies that left a lot of people behind started way before him, and solving those things, I think, would get us out of this issue where we're gonna be constantly talking about the 2000 election, which by all accounts was a fair election and it wasn't stolen, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, and yet we keep... Our candidates are forced to be able to torture themselves to get to a place where they think they get a pass from folks that now believe it was stolen because President Trump insists on it.
0:15:14.1 JB: So I think that my belief is that if we get back to problem-solving, maybe recast the traditional conservative message to incorporate this popular sentiment to be less about the perception at least of being more about big business and things like that, and be more focused on How do you give people a chance to rise up as they see fit? How do you give them the tools to be successful? How do we create policies to make sure that our trade policies and our foreign policies are respectful of Americans in general, that think that they're getting screwed, if we refocus on that I think Trump-ism begins to die out, but if we're constantly focused on the 2020 election, that becomes the dominant figure, the thing, and going on in 2022, A, I think Republicans probably lose more than they should.
0:16:13.8 JB: It should be a really good year for Republicans at the national level, and certainly at the state level, and it will have a huge impact on 2024 as well. So part of this is a belief, and part of it's my hope, I'm not sure which percentage is what, but I do think... Look, I think our political system is broken for many reasons perhaps, but it's not working, because we haven't adjusted our policies irrespective of left or right, our policy prescriptions are... They could be the same ones in many cases that were advocated 20, 30 years ago, and the world has radically changed. You take this, this device is a computer more powerful than anything we had 30 years ago, millions of people have it, the internet has changed everything. The pace of the world is at warp speed, and we're still operating with a healthcare system, an education system, Michael, let's say our higher education system as well, of how we regulate, how we tax in many ways, how do we just in almost every aspect, we're operating as though we were... From a policy perspective, it was 1990, and I think that's quite dangerous, so as a conservative that believes in the conservative philosophy, I think we need to advocate a 21st century version of that, and I'll let the Democrats figure out how to do that on their side, and if we both sides do it. Then I think people will begin to feel like the political system is starting to work for them.
0:17:56.8 MB: It's really hard in the environment that we're in to have the kind of substantive conversation that you just described. We're in this environment in which people are throwing invective at each other, rather than focused on trying to think about substantive policy that might advance the public good, whether that's from a republican position or a democratic position. We spend a lot of time at the Ford School trying to wrestle with this. We have an initiative we call conversations across differences, trying to help people learn how to listen better, and hopefully how to talk in a way that lets other people listen to them when they have these disagreements, and our society, our culture today is not really conducive to that with Twitter and with the invective you hear in Capitol Hill, how do you think we can begin to have a conversation that is focused on really substantive debates about whether it's tax policy or immigration policy, or the other issues you laid out instead of just yelling at each other.
0:19:08.0 JB: First, I would suggest that your next speaker or the one after Liz Cheney, is try to get Amanda Ripley to come. Who's written a book about high conflict, it's... Conflict itself is healthy, it's part of our democracy. And without it, the democracy doesn't flourish, but high conflict is what we have today, which is very dangerous, and so she's done a lot of research on this and written a phenomenal book about how you get out of high conflict, and I think part of the... You mentioned the most important part, which is listening, and you can't listen over the internet. This has to be personal engagement, and my passionate belief is that we're a bottom-up country, the nature of our country, the reason the Bill of Rights is an incredible set of freedoms that is freedoms from government effectively. The left, the hard left calls those negative rights and they're in favor of guarantees of rights, of housing, of everything, these are rights to allow yourself to live freely and to protect those things, you have to engage at a local level. The Tenth Amendment is a good example of that. I'm not sure why we outsource so many things that could be done in Lansing or Tallahassee or local governments that right now are dominated by DC.
0:20:39.4 JB: So the answer I think is a bottom-up approach, rebuilding, reweaving the web of civility and of constructive conversations of conflict, but done in the proper traditional way, done with conviction and passion, but done 1000 different ways across the country. And that's emerging. The interesting thing is, well, while Rome is burning, our DC is all screwed up. Basically, it just looks ugly. There's a lot of places around the country, and you all are doing the same through your efforts at the Ford School. There are scores and scores of examples of this where people are tired of this and they're trying to rebuild our democracy from the bottom-up, and I think that's the only way to do this. To rely on the internet where you're anonymous and you can rip the head off of somebody without any courage and never meet the person that you're supposedly hating and tearing down is not gonna be the answer. Or to reward politicians in DC who don't even know what a conference committee is. Literally, would not know how do you actually take like the PBS deal on how laws made?
0:22:00.3 MB: Yeah.
0:22:01.0 JB: They would have no clue. [laughter] But they can go on Twitter and rip a new one on to one of their opponents. And by the way, the other element of this that makes it quite dangerous is when someone who's really good at this on the left rips into someone who's really good on this on the right, they both win. They both get more intense followers because everybody's going, "Damn right." They don't convince anybody that doesn't already agree with them, they just create more intensity that makes it harder to reweave this web that I think is what we need to do. That can only be done at the local level.
0:22:38.3 MB: How do you think as we're building up at the local level with this, it connects with this national conversation you have? Again, the current leader of the Republican Party is somebody who's not really that interested in reconnecting the fabric of society. Are there people in the leadership of the Republican Party who could be leaders in the Republican Party, who could present a different vision and then find somebody on the Democratic side who's willing to do the same and change the conversation, or is President Trump's dominance in the party, does that make it not possible right now at the national level?
0:23:18.0 JB: I think he is a dominant force. He's not the dominant force, but he's certainly an important one. I think it wanes over time, just as it's a natural progression of being a former. Your influence does subside. Even Donald Trump's, who spends a lot of time still trying to create the environment where it's all about him, but I do think there are ways to forge consensus. My experience as governor was, we passed... A good year, we would pass fewer bills actually than more, but assume for a moment, we would pass on average 150 bills during our session, 140 of them were passed near unanimously. And there was an effort, even though Republicans dominated during my time there, there was an effort to make sure all voices were heard. And when I was governor, the more provocative the idea, the more I tried to find... We used the term Nixon to China. It's better to find someone who doesn't look like me, who doesn't agree with me on 10 other things, on this thing they agree with me, to have them be my partner advocating whatever it was that we were doing. And that's easier done at the local and state level, than certainly Washington where very little gets done, regular order has been blown up.
0:24:52.3 JB: There is no budget process, there's no balance budget, so there's no forcing... At the State level, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, whether you believe in higher taxes or lower, at the end of the day you have to have a balanced budget, and most states don't cheat, and there's pressures of pension obligations and other things that go along with it. It forces the conversation towards, "Yes." It gets ugly. Budgets don't get passed by June 30th a lot of times, but it works. In Washington, there are very few rewards for that. I'd say the one place in Washington where you could find bipartisanship emerging would be if 10 senators or 12, in a Senate that's just divided basically 50-50.
0:25:40.4 JB: If you had 12 senators and we can name them, 6 and 6 that just said, "On these five things, we're gonna stick together, and we're not gonna let the game be played the way it's being played, and we're gonna solve these problems." The gang of 12 could actually probably dominate policy. Now, does that mean the House would go along with it? Maybe not, does that mean President Biden should go along with it? Hell yeah. He got elected to be that kind of president, and if he was given that opportunity, I think he would kind of default back or move back to the mean, which is his life-long career was one of trying to find common ground on... At least on domestic issues. So I think it's possible, and we've seen elements of this that emerge, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The infrastructure bill, which is the great success story, the only...
0:26:42.1 MB: Terrific success story.
0:26:43.7 JB: Well, that was the gang of, I'm not sure it was 12, but it was close to it. So 12 out of 100.
0:26:49.9 MB: And actually, just today, yesterday, the Governor of Michigan, Governor Whitmer and the Republican legislature agreed on a quite significant infrastructure bill, same thing, bipartisan basis, and it came out a committee on a unanimous vote.
0:27:05.5 JB: So I guess the principal, Michael, would be, on the things you agree on, at least on the things you agree on, put aside everything and come together, and then you can argue about the things you don't agree on, go back to Twitter, but there's a lot of stuff where there is... That is not as ideologically driven, and where there's an emerging view. In DC, I'd say China now, we confront China, there may be variations of the policy, but I think there's a real belief that, I think it was correct to assume, to hope at least, that China would move towards Western values as they liberalized their economy, in the last four or five years under President Xi, it's pretty clear that's not the case, but during the Trump presidency and the Biden presidency, the policy has been very similar and Congress has been unified.
0:28:01.7 JB: Ukraine's another example, varying versions of the support we need, but there's consensus, so we focus on the things where there's big disagreements or the crazy stuff. There's some crazy stuff that is like six people that appear more pro-Putin than pro-Ukraine, that's just dumb, but they got massive attention, massive attention. And so, there's 95% of the Republicans that had a different view, they got no attention. So, the focus is on the conflict and the controversy, not on the good government of bringing people together and forging consensus, but I don't know. I think most people are so sick and tired of the hyper-partisanship that there could be an emergence of candidates in both parties that say, "Look, I'm doing this because we have to solve these problems, and I'm willing to figure out a way to get to Yes." You got Senator Mansion, I call him Governor 'cause that's the higher job.
0:29:16.5 MB: Fair enough.
0:29:17.9 JB: He's in a position where he can do that, and others, probably, should figure out a way for them to play in that role as well, and I think that'd be really healthy. We'll see. I'm more heartened when I see what happens at the state level, where there are interesting things happening in a much more bipartisan way. There's still the hyperbole, there's still all the issues, but in general, it's different than what goes on at the nation's capital.
0:29:54.8 MB: Governor, you were mentioning to me the other day that one of the things you've been wondering about are the ways in which our culture and demography have been changing and how that influences what's going on in the political realm. I wonder if you could just reflect a bit on that.
0:30:12.1 JB: Sure. Well, demography is destiny, in many ways, and our demography has changed pretty dramatically, little by little, and now it's accelerated. We're, thankfully, as a Medicare beneficiary I guess, we're getting... A year from now, my plan is to be a year older [chuckle] and there are a lot of other people who...
0:30:37.9 MB: It sure beats the alternative. [chuckle]
0:30:42.1 JB: My age group, people my age and up, are the largest number that ever existed in American history and so we are getting older, and behind us, our children are not forming families to the extent that they once did. They're deferring marriage, and they're deferring having children, and so you see a decline in the fertility rate, decline in family formation, and so the dependency ratio, which is this nerdy thing of people up to 18, and people over the age of 70, now are unsustainable for everybody else in the middle. And politically, the people my age and up dominate politics, and there are very few people that advocate entitlement reform, to be able to provide resources for those in the middle and children that need to be able to be equipped to deal with the world we're in. So, we have a $50 trillion net present value deficit in our entitlement programs.
0:31:50.3 JB: And it's like Alfred E. Neuman, if you remember MAD Magazine, "What, me worry?" Basically, Alfred E. Neuman is in charge of our entitlement policy, no problem, it's not gonna happen. Republicans and Democrats alike, based on this new demographic trend of not rebuilding the pyramid, either through a legal immigration system or a pro-family system that would create a rebuilding of the base, it's unsustainable. It will bankrupt us and it will crowd out all the expenditures that everybody wants, which is a strong national defense, Homeland Security, basic public health care, dealing with the pandemic, all these other issues will subside because the automatic payments that are growing at a rate that is unsustainable and no one is advocating changing that, no one that I'm aware of. I had a plan as a candidate for president, it got no... I'm supposed to be the third rail and all that, but no one really cared, it wasn't like it was controversial because it wasn't... I didn't insult someone. It was like... So I think we need to...
0:33:04.5 MB: You couldn't get enough oxygen to talk about the policy, 'cause you were talking about the policy.
0:33:09.6 JB: Exactly, and then... So that's one element that's really disturbing that we're not dealing with, those are facts, that's not opinion, and it changes how we... The relationship we will have with our government. And the second is this big cultural change that my belief is the biggest cultural change of the last 50 years was the '60s created the so-called counter-culture, became the dominant culture with many benefits, the ability of women to rise to... Still a long way to go, I guess, but significant progress as it relates to civil rights, progress as it relates to the rights of women. That all came from the counter-culture of the '60s, and the freedom to choose many different options in life, less constrained by convention. All of that created a burst of creativity in a lot of things, but it's kind of worn out its welcome, and our culture needs to be reinvigorated in many ways. And maybe that's part of the solution of what you're concerned about is, a cultural change may make it more possible to focus less on DC, more in our own lives, in our own communities, in our own families, to find solutions that are, whether they're on the left or right, more bottom-up, and it also could change our culture towards reconciliation, towards this whole notion of finding common ground, of creating a shared identity again, 'cause we don't have that now.
0:34:45.0 JB: We used to have, I think generally, there was a consensus of what it is to be an American, today, I think that's in a deeply divided country, I'm not sure that one's definition is gonna be the same than somebody else that has a different political view. If we could restore that and then have the debate in a more narrowed kind of focus, I think we would be... A restoration of democracy would happen quite naturally. So, I think about cultural change more than I do the tick-tock of the here and now in politics, and it's changing. I don't know where it's going. I told you I'd love to have the secret power to go four years or five years into the future and peek back to see what the heck's happening here because... And I think all of this, by the way, is accelerated with the pandemic, just mind-numbing realizations of this conversation as a tiny example of it, but how you work, how you live, how you educate your children, how you receive healthcare, all of that was... Existed prior to the pandemic, the changes were happening, the disruption has accelerated those things. Some of which are gonna be really positive for our country, but we have to change some policies to make sure that people can customize their lives now in ways that gives them purpose and meaning, they can't be left behind because they don't wanna work for the man.
0:36:16.0 MB: Governor, you mentioned immigration as one way to renew our society and culture, obviously, immigration reform has been stuck in DC for a long time. A lot of ways that we define ourselves as Americans, or at least used to, is as a nation of immigrants. My dad was an immigrant, I feel deeply about immigration policy, I know that scenario, you've thought a lot about... What should we be doing to move forward on immigration reform?
0:36:47.8 JB: Well, I wrote a book about this, I have to admit it wasn't a best-seller, it's called Immigration Wars, and it was written after the 2012 election where the anti-immigrant kind of feeling emerged, more on the right than the left. But on the left, there's a politicization of the immigration policy, and on the right, there is a, not across the board nativist, but there's a belief that we, at best, we need to fix the illegal immigration policy, which I totally agree with, and change the laws as it relates to asylum. There's reforms that are necessary to... All countries should have the right to protect their borders, we shouldn't have an open, a de facto open-border policy, and by the way, that's a winning political issue, that's a 75%-80% issue, and if Democrats are... If they don't watch it, they're gonna be harmed by this because of the number of people that have come in, cutting in line of people who've waited very patiently in our legal system.
0:37:56.0 JB: I believe we should reform our legal system as well to make it look... To take advantage of the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and that the vitality that legal immigration brings to our country is so exceptional and extraordinary and so much... It's our one advantage that we have at scale than any country in the world, and yet we're trying to compete in the world one hand tied behind our back with the current immigration policy, so there's common ground here, but you gotta get past the argument of, on the one hand, saying that there's civil rights for immigrants that just cross the border, that they have the right to come, 90% of the people that come across eventually two or three years later, 'cause of the overwhelming nature of the number of people coming, that have claimed asylum, 90% receive a deportation order because they can't prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution and none of them, or very few of them actually will show up for the deportation hearing where they're sent back.
0:39:09.8 JB: That's very upsetting, and then on the other side, we have people that are... Send signals that are... They believe that immigrants are not going to embrace the American ideal, the American experience, and there is no evidence of this. Legal immigrants are... They have less demands on government, they commit less crimes, they form more businesses, they are making contributions, irrespective of little income when they come that pay their own way. And at the high end in the technology fields, it's essential for our continued superiority in the fields that are gonna be the most dramatically impactful for prosperity for the country, so... Gosh, it seems we've been arguing about this now for 20 years, and we're not closer, we're further away from finding common ground. That gang of 12, whoever that... May be a little more courage required on this one, but, that would be a good place to start, don't you think?
0:40:21.8 MB: I think it would, I think it would. Let's talk about education reform, and then in a few minutes we're gonna invite our students to join us.
0:40:30.8 JB: Sure.
0:40:31.3 MB: We've spent decades working on education reform issues, we're coming out of a very rough period during the pandemic that really disproportionately hurt low-income students and students from distressed communities economically, whether rural or urban. I wonder how you think about where we are and as we're coming, hopefully, out of the pandemic what areas you think we should be focused on.
0:40:58.3 JB: Well, I think there are a couple of things that have happened, parents are more engaged and more aware of their kids' education because they... In many places they took over either as a partner with a teacher remotely or basically taking over the whole thing with very little interaction with the schools. And so there's heightened awareness and that's good because ultimately any sustainable reform is gonna require parental support and parental involvement. The pandemic brought out a couple of really powerful points, which is, if you're going to create a shut-down strategy to deal with a virus, you need to focus on all of the impacts of shutting down the economy, shutting down schools, forcing families to be quarantined, 'cause the social costs of this are enormous, the learning losses are real, you can't automatically snap your finger and just automatically have those be regained. And, frankly, the more open the schools were in states like Florida, there's no evidence that there's a higher infection rate that impacted teachers or impacted adults or impacted children than the ones that shut down and barely are thinking about coming back now, so hopefully we learn from these lessons and have a broader policy as it relates to future kind of crisis like this.
0:42:31.1 JB: The good news is parents are now more engaged and more interested in having the ability to choose what's best for their children, so you've seen an increase in the number of students going to charter schools, you've seen an increase in the number of kids that are homeschooled by a dramatic number, and that's actually sustained itself after the opening began, and traditional schools have began to see a decline, so I think everybody has to realize in order to get the students to come back to their schools, they're gonna have to offer something that's more relevant for parents, point number one. Point number two, there's a huge digital divide in our country, and this became more apparent because of the pandemic. Part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, $40 billion is available to bring broadband into the urban core areas where broadband is too expensive or it doesn't exist and into the rural areas where it's very difficult, very few places can you access broadband, and so, that has to be done because hybrid learning is going to be a fact of life as well, and so our foundation is an advocate for a strategy as it relates to using the federal dollars to match with state dollars and philanthropy to be able to eliminate the digital divide, which can be done if we were serious about it, it's one of those big hairy audacious goals that doesn't have the ideological tinge to it, but could be done.
0:44:08.6 JB: And then the final thing I'd say is that I'm passionate about early childhood literacy. There is enough evidence to suggest that there are ways, irrespective of when kids... When they start kindergarten, it'd be great to have a pre-K strategy as well, but you can overcome these gaps if teachers are well trained in the science of reading, to teach kids how to read and command focus on it, so by the end of third grade, they are basic readers rather than below basic readers, and that challenge is a challenge that's doable, again, if we're serious about it and it would deal with a lot of the divides over the long haul, if we at least started there. We work in 40 states, predominantly with conservative reformers, and there is a bipartisan consensus about early childhood education being part of this. I just... I think we should have a little more edge to it, we shouldn't just say we're for it, we actually ought to have a gate that says, "If you're functionally illiterate by the end of third grade, you're gonna be held back," we're gonna make damn sure that we're gonna develop another strategy to assure that your child can read before fourth grade starts where you're reading to learn things rather than learning how to read.
0:45:42.0 JB: My hope is that that isn't... The unions get nervous about things where they're held to account, but in general moms and dads know that their child has to be able to be functionally literate by the end of third grade in order to be successful in life. So, I think the pandemic has brought out some challenges that creates opportunities for policy makers. And, Michael, the good news is, I don't think I mentioned the word federal government or DC in that whole diatribe. This is not a DC issue. And so it can be done. There are varying versions of what I just described, It might be different expressed by a Democrat governor than a Republican one, but the action is done at the state capitals where there is a broader possibility of consensus.
0:46:34.2 MB: I wonder, Governor, there are these areas of consensus that I think are really important, but there're also at the state level, some pretty serious areas of division.
0:46:43.4 JB: Yep.
0:46:43.6 MB: How do you think about navigating that? On the one hand, you have this potential for a focus on literacy and early childhood education, but a lot of the heat right now is around things like banning the teaching of the history of racism in the United States. Or in Florida even, saying you're not allowed to talk about parents who are not traditional parents in heterosexual families. Thinking about the concern about limitation on the teaching of either racial history or teaching about gays and lesbians and alternative family structures or transgender youth. How do you think about how to have those conversations in a way that is building consensus again and not in these very divisive modes of acting?
0:47:44.1 JB: Yeah, these cultural issues are tough, for sure. I don't know if you've read the veto message of Governor Cox from Utah, who vetoed a bill that prohibited transgender students to participate in women sports, I assume it was just women sports. And his point was this. There are three... I think they've identified three young high school students that were in transition that were participating women sports, but the signal this sends is to a much broader audience, in that we should show love and compassion. He recognized the fact that there ought to be rules around this issue. And I don't think people disagree with that. People... There's... In fact the Olympic Committee and other, the NCAA, they actually have crafted rules that would made it more difficult next year for the woman that is in transition that became a collegiate record holder, who was on the male Penn swimming team last year and now is participating as a woman. So there are solutions to this, but it does require a little bit of humility and understanding, and avoidance of these hot-button issues where it's appropriate. So, should we talk about curriculum in schools? Should parents have some say in the curriculum in schools?
0:49:24.8 JB: I think that's an 80%, most people say yes. They wanna know, at least, there should be transparency. But should we ban books? No, we shouldn't be banning books. There should be an allowance of free expression, and as the older you go in the K-12 system, the more you have of that. I don't think... I don't want my grandchildren to be taught about sex, of any kind, identification or preference or how... Whatever it is. I don't... In third grade I don't think it's appropriate. And I think a majority of American parents would agree with that. But there are a lot of places where, that are broader, that I think the policy makers ought to focus on this rather than these hot-button issues that are narrow. Michael, you brought up the impact that you believe is going to be of this 'Don't Say Gay' it's called, by the opponents of the bill, I don't think that's gonna be the impact. Unfortunately, the language was vague enough for people to surmise what it might be, but I think the principal objective of that was to say that K-3 children should not be receiving any information about any of this stuff, that's a role of the parent. So we'll see how that plays out. But, man, one bill of 500 that were presented to the Florida legislature probably got 90% of the attention, and it was national. And people are raising money on both sides of this issue over the internet, because it became one of those kind of cultural deals that dominates the political discourse in our country.
0:51:07.6 MB: Well, that is a deep and important issue I think we're gonna have to continue to discuss at another day, because I wanna invite our first of our Ford School students to join us. Bianca Shah. So, Bianca, do you wanna come on in and offer up your question?
0:51:27.9 Bianca Shah: Yes, of course. Thank you, Dean Barr, thank you, Governor Bush for being a part of this important conversation. So as was mentioned earlier, I'm a part of the Central Student Government here at U of M, and as a part of CSG I've made effort to increase civic engagement and student turnout through assisting and essentially navigating the voter registration and voting process. So I am an out-of-state student myself, I know firsthand that there's a lot of barriers already to voting such as switching your vote registration, having different addresses each year, not having a state-issued ID, and more. And I've worked to promote the civic engagement, as I want every individual's rightful voice on this campus to be heard, regardless of their party affiliation. However, throughout the country, we have now seen various voter suppression efforts founded on claims of voter fraud. These pieces of legislation often compound the diminishment of minority voices by disenfranchising Black and Brown voters. As voting is a key pillar of democracy, what measures should be taken to help thwart these targeted efforts and ensure that the right to vote is indeed a right for all Americans?
0:52:32.8 JB: So Bianca, describe to me the voter suppression issues that have passed in, Florida was an example where there was a belief that that happened, or Georgia, or Texas, what are the elements of the bills that would suppress the votes? Since Black voter participation in... I don't know about Texas, but certainly Florida and Georgia has been at historical highs, and the amount of time available for voting prior to the election day is longer in Georgia and in Florida than it is in Delaware, where President Biden resides, or New York or other states that are perceived to be more open for this, so there may be elements of the suppression that it would be helpful for me to understand, 'cause then I could answer your question maybe a little better.
0:53:25.6 BS: Sure, so part of what I'm talking about is voter registration as it relates to mail-in voting, where, a lot of people, because election is not a national holiday, people may have jobs or they're not able to get off of work, especially if they work part-time jobs or jobs that have less flexible schedules, or I've also seen legislation that limits what election officials can actually do in terms of helping and staying open and different policies such as that, that relate to those days on actual election day.
0:54:00.2 JB: So again, the states that have been accused of suppressing the vote actually have longer times for early voting than many states that haven't changed their laws and haven't been accused of suppressing the vote. So, as it relates to... One of the challenges that has come up is that during the pandemic, we had extraordinary measures necessary to be able to have the vote take place, in different counties, 'cause this is all administered by jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction, unless you have a standardized state law, which Florida has had. I was Governor in 2000, and we learned our lesson about decentralized voting rules, and so we created a single standard, but when you have executive orders done by mayors in one part of the state that circumvent the law to allow for what they believe to be the proper way of doing things, and then the pandemic ends.
0:55:03.1 JB: The law probably ought to be standardized again, so I totally agree that we should not be suppressing the vote, and I think it should be easy to do, and in most places it is, and I think, I'd say the one thing that I would disagree with is states that have absentee ballots that are not post-marked by election day. So, I mean, there's some simple things that I think we can do to standardize the process, to make sure that every vote is counted, but it ought to be based on facts, because I know for a fact that voter participation, particularly in 2020, but certainly in '16 as well, is at an all time high, which is good. It's the reason why, if you're a Democrat, you loved it, because there's two senators in Georgia, they got elected, and Joe Biden carried a state that a Democrat hadn't won in, I don't remember the last time, probably had to be Jimmy Carter.
0:56:08.7 MB: Jimmy Carter, I think.
0:56:10.7 JB: Yeah, so those laws that were supposed to be suppressing the vote, turned out to have created a bluer outcome in a state that traditionally was red, so.
0:56:20.4 BS: Thank you for the response.
0:56:25.1 MB: Thank you, Bianca. Let's invite in Michael Hauser to ask the final student question.
0:56:30.6 Michael Hauser: Hi Governor Bush, thanks for your time. My question's about the role of religion in American political life, and as it relates to democratic resilience. In the end of an opening statement you made at the Nexus Institute, in the spring of 2016, you said that, "In attempting to uphold democracy, we need to learn to be warm-hearted again." And you said that, "Our first impulse is to be more interested in others than we are in ourselves." And I couldn't agree more with that. In the United States, the cultivation of virtues like respect, kindness, generosity have often come from religious institutions, and that being said, given that religious leaders still maintain an influential role in influencing political behavior, how can policy makers work with religious leaders to advocate for the preservation of democratic norms and institution, in an age where denominational affiliation is as likely an indicator of political preference as any other demographic characteristic? Thanks.
0:57:27.9 JB: Wow, that's a brilliant question, I'm not sure, you probably have a better answer on this than I do but I would say, first of all, as a practicing Catholic, a convert, so I became a Catholic because my wife, I wanted to go to mass with my wife, and my children to grew up in the Catholic traditions. I was a cheating Catholic, I'd go to mass, but I was an Episcopalian. So, I went through the RCA process, and it was an important part, it is today, still an important part of my life, my personal life, and I never felt like... It should always be an important part of my public life as well, that you don't put your deeply held moral views that come from religious traditions in a lock box. And I think, at least in the Catholic tradition, what you described as loving your neighbor, having compassion for those that have been left behind, a sense of social justice, all of that is embedded in the Catholic traditions that have existed for many, many centuries.
0:58:33.5 JB: Not all people of faith embrace that, they see moral decline and they see... They've embraced people that frankly don't embrace their own faith, and that conflict, I'm not an expert on why it exists, but I do think that it's a noble tradition in our country to openly express your faith in a way that's not like, you're not casting judgment on others that don't embrace it, but it should be allowed on the public square and that we should have free expression, including religious faith. And frankly, if we did, the conversation that Michael and I had prior to you coming on the video, probably it'd be easier to do, 'cause we could agree to disagree again. We could recognize that not everybody starts out in life the same way, and that we have an obligation and duty to lift people up. There's a lot of things that whether you're a conservative or a liberal you could embrace, all of which are foundational aspects of religion and faith. So I hope you stick with this in your studies, but more importantly, in the career to come, and I appreciate the service you've already provided our country.
1:00:03.6 MH: Sure. Thank you.
1:00:03.9 MB: Thank you, Michael. Governor, we're almost at the time, but I wanted to ask just one last question, you talked about at the beginning about the role your family played in teaching you public service, and you have clearly passed that down to the next generation. When you're thinking about our students at the Ford School, and they're starting out their lives, our undergraduates and our master's students going off into public service. What advice would you give to them?
1:00:35.0 JB: My first advice would be don't automatically default to DC for public service. In fact, I would say in terms of policy, you could gain your policy chops far quicker in a more merit-based system, which would be local and state government. When I was governor, we were... It was a reform time and we were doing all sorts of things, and I relied on younger people because I couldn't afford the experienced people, we have budget constraints, and that's still to this day, the case in most governments outside of Washington. And so I learned the skill of finding talents in people before they knew it. And so... And now my alumni is comprised of people whose life experiences, I think were accelerated because they didn't go to DC, they became subject matter experts in fields that really are relevant for the rest of their lives, and they did that in little Tallahassee.
1:01:40.6 JB: So the first advice I would give is certainly that, and the second is, don't veer off, you've gone to a great school and you've done it because you wanna serve in the public arena, don't be discouraged. In fact, you're needed. I'm demanding that you stay involved [chuckle] for the sake of our country, it's time for the old fuddy duddies to take... To lead the stage frankly. I'm not for term limits by age, but come on man, I mean people are just clawing for sticking around and we need to let the next generation rise up in positions of responsibility, and so graduates of the Bush School and College Station and the Ford School, the Kennedy School, I think can play a really constructive role in that regard, Michael.
1:02:31.4 MB: Thanks very much Governor. I've really enjoyed this conversation. I know our viewers have as well, and I really appreciate your time this afternoon. Thanks so much for joining us at the Ford School.
1:02:40.8 JB: God bless. Thanks.
1:02:41.1 MB: Take care.
1:02:41.1 JB: See ya.