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Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to LI business leaders

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Long Island Association's annual luncheon at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury on Feb. 24, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Long Island business leaders Monday that he'll make a decision about running for president by year's end, but cautioned that he doesn't want to get "mired" in a "food fight."

Speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Long Island Association's annual luncheon at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, Bush, a Republican, said the campaign plans of former Democratic U.S. senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not factor into his decision.

Instead, he will decide on whether to run in 2016 based on whether "it is right for my family" and whether he feels he can run "joyfully."

In response to a question by association president Kevin Law, Bush explained, "Joyfully means that you can express a hopeful and optimistic message of reform -- that you don't get mired in the food fight."

Bush, Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007, is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, and he noted the political acrimony in Washington. He said the Republican Party needed to make strides to "inspire" voters, warning that the "GOP agenda can't just be against" Washington.

"People are tired of the negativity," he said. "They want to be inspired . . . I remember the days when Republican candidates were more of the optimists. There was a real passion for reform . . . We need to get back to that."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), also a potential 2016 contender for president, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman of Great Neck were among the Long Island political figures in the crowd.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month put Bush in second place among six possible 2016 GOP contenders. King was not listed.

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pursue dueling plans for universal prekindergarten, Bush also lauded Florida's universal pre-K program, which he said provides vouchers to pay for schooling for some 160,000 4-year-olds statewide. But, he added, "Pre-K matters as long as it's part of a broader strategy."

Bush, whose two terms as governor focused heavily on reforming Florida's educational system by grading schools based on student testing performance, said he supported the Common Core curriculum.

Common Core relies on testing to gauge student progress and encourages parity among state teaching standards. Critics in New York and elsewhere say students are being over-tested and teachers should not be evaluated solely on students' test scores.

"I do believe that commonality is not a bad thing," Bush said.

Asked to assess President Barack Obama's first five years in office, Bush said he believed the administration's economic policies have "failed" and criticized Obama's foreign policy.

"I think our foreign policy is adrift," Bush said. "There isn't a doctrine, if you will, a consistency to the policy. That's created a lot of uncertainty in the world right now that could lead to serious problems, not in the way-out future, but in the near term."

In the hourlong appearance before the LIA, Bush spoke several times about his family. He recalled the "nerve wracking" experience of watching his son George P. Bush's current run for statewide office as Texas Land Commissioner, celebrating his 40-year marriage to his wife, Columba, and watching his father's health improve after he was hospitalized last year for two months for a bronchitis-related cough and other health issues.

Asked how history would regard his brother's record as president, he commended George W. Bush's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and said "over time, there will be a readjustment. I think history will be kind to him."


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