Republicans rally for Jeb Bush — and help cousin Walker Stapleton

The Colorado Statesman

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush headlined a high-dollar fundraiser for his cousin Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton on Thursday night at the Brown Palace in Denver and got some strong encouragement to throw his hat in the ring for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“The optimism, the clarity of message and principle — it fires me up,” said former Denver Broncos safety John Lynch, introducing Bush to the avid crowd of Stapleton donors. “This man can lead.”

Lynch said he had a recent conversation during a visit to Texas when the topic of Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects came up and both Lynch and the man he was talking with both agreed they hope he runs. “That man happened to be his brother, George W.,” Lynch said with a smile as the crowd cheered.

Bush stressed the importance of being optimistic in his remarks.

Stapleton spoke briefly at the $55-a-ticket fundraiser — an earlier, $1,000-per-person VIP reception had just concluded inside a private club at the historic hotel — turning the microphone over to Lynch after briefly praising Bush’s record governing Florida. The Republican, seeking a second term as treasurer, is running against Democratic nominee former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and his cousin former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush survey the crowd at the Stapleton fundraiser.

There was only scant mention of the state treasurer campaign — Bush joked that he doesn’t worry much about how the State of Colorado manages its money, in part because he’s confident Stapleton is at the helm — but all eyes were on Bush, who has yet to announce whether he plans to run for president in two years.

Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and State GOP Chairman Ryan Call.

“I’m here because family matters,” Bush said, nodding to his cousin. “I know it matters a lot to you, it matters a lot to me. Walker is family, so I’ve got a little bit of a bias. I hope you will accept the fact a proud cousin can come to support someone who can do a great job with your support.”

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, former Denver Broncos safety John Lynch and El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams visit after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's remarks.

He said his parents — former President George Herbert Walker Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush — were doing well, though he joked that he wished his mother “didn’t have an opinion on presidential politics every time someone sticks a microphone in her face.” (“We’ve had enough Bushes,” she told the Today Show a year ago and made a similar point last month, when she said during a C-SPAN interview that it’s “silly” if the country can’t draw presidential candidates from “more than two or three families.”)

Colorado Log Cabin Republicans President George Gramer and Gregory Carlson await the arrival of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.

“To expect her not to have an opinion on anything is foolhardy, it’s a waste of time,” Bush said with a smile. Noting that his mother is turning 89 soon, he added, “If you have elderly parents, you know that whatever limits, whatever alternator they had on their engine, it’s gone. They go straight from whatever they think directly right out.”

Former state Sen. Sally Hopper, R-Golden, and Jim Belmon pause for a moment at a fundraiser for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

His father, Bush said, is turning 90 next month and, although he said the former president isn’t able to walk any more, he advised keeping an eye on the sky above Kennebunkport, Maine, where he might celebrate his birthday by going sky-diving.

Congressional District 2 candidate George Leing and Denver Metro Young Republicans membership director Sara Boyd visit at a fundraiser for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

Bush then advised those visiting his brother’s presidential library in Dallas not to miss the exhibit allowing visitors to make decisions like those faced by the President, given the same set of facts.

Monica Owens, state Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, and Hillary Shoun greet VIPs on the way into a reception for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on May 29 at the Brown Palace Hotel.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“With all due respect, when you go to the Clinton Library, it’s all ‘me, me, me,’ ‘I, I, I,’ and, whether Clinton was a good president or not, is not really the point here,” Bush said. “The point is, I love my brother’s humility; I love the fact that he will let history be the judge of his success and failures, and my guess is, history’s going to be really, really kind to him.”

The crowd of roughly 200 supporters agreed with a round of applause and cheers.

Then Bush launched into what he termed his “five-minute spiel,” which sounded a lot like the bones of a stump speech for a national candidate, save for a few references to the politics of swing-state Colorado and a couple other crucial states Republicans haven’t carried since his brother’s reelection bid a decade ago.

“Why is that in the greatest country on earth on the face of the earth that the American people are so deeply pessimistic?” Bush began. “Lot of reasons why that is, but we seem to focus on the negative so much that it’s actually changing who we are, it’s actually making it harder for us to fix the things if we fix, we will soar.”

Bush continued: “It troubles me because I yearn for the day that the Brits and the Europeans kind of look down their nose and say, ‘You Yanks are naively optimistic,’ because I love optimism,” he said as the Stapleton supporters cheered. “Naive optimism is even better. When you can embrace with passion and conviction your own dreams, incredible things have happened.”

“This country’s the greatest country in the world not because our government’s effective — ask the Veterans Administration about that — or because the size and scope of our government is too small — it’s way too big,” he said. “Our country is special because the American people have historically embraced their own dreams and pursued them with a vengeance, and created opportunities for themselves and their families and other people, and that cascading out has created the greatness of our country. We need to restore that. We need to restore the right to rise.”

Then he tore into potential Colorado ballot measures aimed at giving local governments more control over oil and gas drilling operations.

“The idea that in Colorado you would have referendum to eliminate hydraulic tracking and horizontal drilling that creates wealth and prosperity, high-wage jobs for people in Colorado, is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” Bush said as the crowd went wild with assent.

Fracking technology, he said, has quickly created “the ability for the United States to be energy-secure, which means we have the lowest-cost energy in the world.” Utility bills and transportation costs “are going down instead of going up,” and North America is on its way to energy independence. “What are you thinking, Colorado, to even put this on the ballot? My God, this is the kind of thinking all of us need to reject.”

Then Bush ticked off a number of positions before going into some detail on education reform, a field where he made waves in Florida as a school choice and charter school pioneer.

“Whether it’s embracing the energy revolution that’s taking place, shifting from a broken immigration system to an economically driven one, moving to a regulatory system that is focused on outcomes in the 21st Century and its orientation, eliminating the bizarre nature of our tax code, transforming our education system so that huge gaps that exist in terms of the prospects of the next generation are narrowed because we have high expectations for every child,” he said.

“The idea that, if you’re born in poverty, you can’t learn is perpetuated over and over again by people’s whose economic interests drive their focus on education,” Bush said. “Conservatives need to embrace more passionate, hopeful, optimistic change, and we’ll draw people towards our cause if we do it. Think of the single mom living in poverty in Denver whose child is assigned a school that will doom that child to failure. Do you think that she doesn’t love her child with all her heart and soul? Don’t you think we should be on her side rather than the union’s side and the bureaucrats’ side?”

Urging Republicans to “get out of our comfort zone,” Bush reiterated the kind of approach the national GOP and the state party have said is key to winning over a changing electorate.

“There are a lot more conservatives and a lot more Republicans who would embrace our agenda if we took the time to listen to them and to engage them and to learn from them and be able to persuade them to sign up,” Bush said. “If we just preach to the choir, if we just create a little protective bubble around ourselves and say the world’s over and we’re just going to ride it out in slow, steady decline, then we’ll get that. But if we embrace the future in a hopeful, optimistic way and have an evangelical spirit, if you will, to try to convince a lot of people that don’t even give Republicans a first chance or a second chance — if we take the time and humility to reach out to them, we’ll win elections consistently in Colorado, Ohio, Florida and all the places that now demographers are saying it’s impossible for us to win. And if we do that, we should lead in a way that limits government’s power and restores people’s right to rise and creates a hopeful, optimistic America again so that we can lead the world.”

Bush concluded by outlining the kind of pragmatic, moderate Republicanism that pundits say could propel him to the front of the pack, should he join the field of presidential aspirants.

“An America that is optimistic leads the world; an America that is pessimistic is withdrawn and creates problems for ourselves and the rest of the world,” Bush said. “This is hugely important. Elect Walker, elect conservative candidates in Colorado, across the board, and stay true to our beliefs, but do it in a way where we’re going to win rather than make a point.”

See the May 30 print edition for full photo coverage.