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Jeb Bush tells Sunshine Summit that leadership is listening, learning, not talking trash

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An optimistic Jeb Bush delivered a, yes, energetic speech before a largely supportive crowd at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando Friday afternoon. The former Florida governor always notes the time he led the Sunshine State, but threw in even more references to his accomplishments in office for the home state crowd.

The message is that he accomplished a lot between 1998-2006, and that he can replicate that on the federal level.

Twice during the speech he took veiled shots at Donald Trump, saying that leadership is about listening and learning.

“Leadership traits, by the way, that are grossly underestimated in the world we’re in today where you’ve gotta be the big guy on stage and talk trash and talk in a way that disparages people. Listening and learning is the way that you lead,” he said with emphasis.

After discussing the lives of vulnerable Floridians that he’s encountered during his political career, he told the crowd he was telling them about those residents because they’re what it’s all about: the people, and not the slick speakers; again a shot at the GOP front-runner.

“It’s not about the big personalities on the stage. It’s not about who can give the great quip. It’s not about that. It’s about building a society that is loving, that is caring, that is aspirational. Where people believe again in the American dream. Where they have the tools to achieve earned success their own way.

“The most vulnerable in our society need to be in the front of the line,” he said. “We need to be on their side.”

He took plenty of shots at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and “the left” overall, making the argument that liberalism is about giving up on people and trusting too much in Big Government.

“Hillary was a United States Senator for eight years. You know how many bills she sponsored that became law? Three. Naming a highway, naming a post office, and naming a monument,” Bush said, before comparing it to his record in Florida of “taking on very powerful interests,” specifically the teacher unions when he implemented his education reforms that included school vouchers.

“Should I be president of the United States, I promise you I won’t be a divider in chief,” he said, knocking Obama. “I won’t be an agitator in chief. I’ll be a commander in chief, because that’s what we need.” Some in the crowd particularly enjoyed that line.

Bush said he would fight for a balanced-budget amendment, implement a six-year lobbying ban on elected officials after they leave office, and propose a version of a line-item veto system. He also said he’d freeze federal employment, “just like we did in Florida.”

The question remains, though, whether the GOP primary electorate cares what Jeb Bush did in Florida a decade ago. He believes they ultimately will.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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