3 Questions African Americans Should Ask Jeb Bush

by Jason Johnson /  / Updated 

The Black vote is not a lock for the Democrats or the Republicans in 2016. NBCBLK is running a series of articles posing custom questions toward each candidate running for office: Martin O'Malley, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bernie Sanders, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz for starters.

We don't presume an "African American" political agenda, (something that may or may not exist for that matter). Instead this series looks at policy and home turf issues, and evaluates how those factors would specifically impact African American voters. We look at existing policy, statements and legislation, and ask questions based on what the candidate has already laid out. Hopefully their campaigns will feel compelled to respond.

Daniel Acker

Jeb Bush is the once and future front-runner of the Republican Party.

By once, he entered the Republican nomination contest earlier this year with a big announcement, and with a campaign strategy more geared towards being pleasant and agreeable for the general election than appealing to the core base in the primary.

Jeb's policy initiatives from his terms terms as Florida's governor was considered moderate, rather than radical anti-government slash and burn. He leans more towards John Kasich (R-Ohio) in his willingness to adopt some centrist policies, and less like a Mike Huckabee (R - Arkansas) who decries anything 'out of Washington'.

Jeb Bush has prided himself on his great relationship with Latino voters, and his positions on multi-lingual education and immigration reflect his sensitivity to that constituency. However, his relationship with African American voters wasn’t nearly as warm and reciprocal and that seems to have extended into his presidential campaign.

In the 1994 Florida gubernatorial race Jeb was asked what he would do for African Americans in Florida and his off the cuff response was: “probably nothing”.

He later tried to clarify by saying he wanted to serve “all of Florida” and thus didn’t have any specific policies targeted towards African Americans. Jeb lost that race and by 1998 was running again and publicly apologizing at debates for ignoring black voters.

Jeb won 14 percent of the black vote that election but by the time he was running again in 2002 that relationship had soured considerably. The massive disenfranchisement of black voters and blatant fraud of the 2000 presidential election, along with the dismantling of affirmative action under Jeb’s watch justifiably angered black voters in the state.

He only pulled about 6 percent of the black vote when he was re-elected in 2002. To put this into context with other Republican candidates, former governors Chris Christie, John Kasich and Mike Huckabee each got more than 20 percent of the black vote in their last elections.

Jeb Bush has struggled in the polls in recent months, due to some of his own mistakes and having been turned into the number one target of front-runner Donald Trump’s rapid fire tongue. However, this is still a long race, and Bush still has a chance to be the Republican nominee for president. He has great name recognition, money and an operation in Iowa worthy of respect.

As a candidate who presents himself as someone who can be a “Big Tent” Republican his policy positions are worth a serious look by African American voters.

Image: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the New Hampshire Education Summit in Londonderry
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the New Hampshire Education Summit in Londonderry, New Hampshire August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian SnyderBRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

1. You've supported Common Core, vouchers and charter schools. What does Bush education reform look like?

Jeb Bush’s record on education and the African American community is mixed at best. As governor he was a strong proponent of Common Core, a set of standards for elementary and high-school education developed by the National Governor’s Association that states can choose to adopt with the assistance of federal grants.

Arguably, Common Core can benefit poor and minority students by establishing the same set of standards for all kids instead of the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that often infects majority minority schools.

Bush is also a big proponent of vouchers and charter schools, implementing a voucher program in Florida and opening a charter school in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Florida once he left office.

However Jeb also initiated the “One Florida” program effectively ending affirmative action in college admissions. Unfortunately there has been a drop in high-school graduation and college acceptance rates by African Americans in Florida ever since.

Bush touts his policies as helping black Floridians and goes so far as to claim education reforms might’ve prevented the Baltimore riots. Considering that African American graduation rates have gone up under Obama black voters should ask Jeb Bush what his education reforms will do to black students’ graduation and college acceptance rates.

Ferguson, Missouri Residents Vote On Election Day
A voter shows off her "I Voted" sticker as she leaves a polling place on November 4, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Scott Olson / Getty Images

2. Does Jeb Bush really care about black people?

When Kanye famously questioned George W. Bush’s commitment to black Americans in the wake of Katrina it really stung the president. This was because in his own mind George W. had gone out of his way to build relationships with black voters. However when it comes to the younger Bush, Kanye’s statement might be a bit more accurate.

Jeb Bush’s relationships with black voters and politicians have been very poor over the years. Beyond his infamous ‘probably nothing’ response Bush was famously got caught on tape saying “Kick their asses out” in reference to two black lawmakers staging a protest to his “One Florida” program.

In August he lied about meeting with #BlackLivesMatter activists, in September he told a crowd in South Carolina that Republicans shouldn’t be offering black people “free stuff” for their votes.

Earlier this year he confessed that he’s a “total nerd” for the books of Charles Murray. This is the Charles Murray who’s 90’s best-selling book “The Bell Curve” argued that America’s downfall was due to intellectually inferior blacks and Latinos having more babies than white people.

Just like farmers, or veterans or suburban mothers, African American voters should ask Jeb Bush to show how he actually has empathy and commitment to black voters, in policy, not just in ideology.

Image: Jeb Bush
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, talks to reporters following a town hall campaign stop, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Keene, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)Jim Cole / AP

3. Do you have a specific plan to tackle mass incarceration and criminal justice reform?

Jeb Bush’s website contains very little information on criminal justice issues, mass incarceration, policy brutality or gun control. And while the goal of this series is to assess candidates on the issues that they present, in the wake of riots, mass shootings and protests about police violence it is important to get the temperature of what Jeb actually feels about these issues should he get sworn in as president in 2017.

Jeb has clearly evolved on criminal justice issues, back in 1984 he bragged that he was a “…hang ‘em by the neck’ conservative” but has mellowed considerably in the last 30 years. His policy choices have moved more from punishment to imprisonment.

During his two terms as Florida governor (1999-2007) Florida’s prison population topped 100,000 for the first time, with half of the inmates being African American despite blacks only making up 14 percent of the state’s population.

Bush has strongly defended the “Stand Your Ground” law he passed in Florida but suggests that it shouldn’t have been used to defend George Zimmerman, stating back in 2012:

“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,”...“Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”

Further, Jeb Bush actually appointed almost twice as many African American judges than Charlie Christ (Democrat) or Rick Scott (Republican) the two governor’s that followed him.

However none of these quotas alone can paint a true picture of Jeb Bush in these areas. Most of the other Republican candidates have offered some policy plans. African American voters should ask that Jeb, as a nominal front-runner offer specific plans and policies on how he intends to address policing issues in America.

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