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Jeb Bush strikes at “Mount Washington” from his old perch in Tallahassee

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Set against a wall-sized backdrop reading “Reform D.C.,” Jeb Bush continued his push for the GOP’s presidential nomination in the state capital Monday morning at Florida State University’s Turnbull Conference Center.

Bush, who lived in Tallahassee from 1999 until 2007 when he was governor, took on what he called the excesses of “Mount Washington,” by using the days when he struck fear into state lawmakers with his line-item veto pen as an example for the nation.

“We used to call this city ‘Mount Tallahassee’ because it was so remote from the people, so caught up in the settled ways of a comfortable establishment,” Bush said before a crowd of about 300 supporters. “I was a governor who refused to go along with that establishment. I wasn’t a member of the club, and that made all the difference.”

Longtime lawmakers Senate President Andy Gardiner and Sen. Jack Latvala — Capitol fixtures and presumably part of “the club” — appeared in a before-speech video to vouch for Bush.

Latvala invoked Bush’s bygone nickname of “Veto Corleone,” given to him by a newspaper columnist — which the former governor has dusted off and embraced lately — and brandished Bush’s budgetary highlights: more than 2,000 line-item vetoes amounting to about $2 billion in spending approved by a process Bush said “would not make any Floridian proud.”

Bush quickly turned to national affairs and became pointed in his charges that the federal government had plenty of fat that he’s eager to cut.

Seizing on the recent IRS cyber attacks, Bush slammed “incompetence” and “ineptitude” he said is rampant in the federal bureaucracy.

“Today, we know that more than 22 million were affected and that the information taken includes the intrusive questionnaires used to vet people for security clearances,” Bush said.

“What does it say when, with all its resources, the federal government could not even protect vital data from a hostile actor? Rarely has incompetence carried such a price in government.”

As a prescription for the ailments, Bush recommended swift and permanent cuts to federal agencies, specifically endorsing a “three out, one in” policy of replacing only every third federal employee who exits the government with the exception of “vital” areas like national security.

Bush also put forth proposals to rein in the harmful effects of the massive industry that lobbies Washington policymakers, noting the sector has grown to more than $12 million per member of Congress.

“I know how that kind of culture works: I saw it here in Tallahassee,” Bush said. “Over time, lobbyists and legislators grew a little too comfortable in each others’ company, cutting deals that didn’t have much to do with the public interest.”

He touted his signing of the Sen. Tom Lee-driven gift ban prohibiting lobbyists from plying lawmakers with material offerings other than campaign contributions.

Bush said his approval of that measure and others — “the strictest lobbying reforms in the country” — signaled that he would bring a “new way of doing business” to Washington as president.

But as he promised transformational change in how D.C. does politics, he also took swipes at Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, key obstacles to his hopes for the nomination.

He subtly rebuked Trump for dismissing the “war hero” bona fides of John McCain — whom he called a “real hero, by the way” — and lumped in Rubio with D.C. business as usual by saying Florida’s junior senator had little experience beyond “filing an amendment and calling it success.”

Bush said all of his reforms were designed to favor the economy in a zero-sum game of economic growth vs. a growing government, and that by reining in the latter he would lead the country to prosperity citizens have not known since before the Great Recession.

“Real economic growth is achievable, and I have set a goal of 4 percent a year,” he said to applause.

“Balanced budgets, and debt that is finally under control, are within our power to accomplish. And the driving force must be a presidential-level challenge to the culture of spending. This is essential and achievable in a single term – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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