Jeb Bush tight-lipped on Charlie Crist, 2016 plans, during literacy event

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would rather not say anything about his Republican successor and current Democratic candidate Charlie Crist.

“I’m all in for Rick Scott; I think he’s done a good job, he’s worked really hard,” Bush said at Friday’s 14th annual Celebration of Reading in Bonita Springs.

The event, which drew a crowd of about 750, was in support of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, whose purpose is for America to reach a 100 percent literacy rate.

While presenting a proposal that he hopes will transform literacy rates in Lee County and across the nation, Jeb remained reticent on plans for a 2016 White House bid.

But he did share his thoughts on the Florida governor’s race.

“I just really prefer not to talk about Charlie Crist,” Jeb quipped. “In honor of my mother, who taught me not to say bad things about people, I think I’ll take a pass.”

Also attending through Skype was past President George H.W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and actor Teri Hatcher, reported Katherine Rosenberg for NaplesNews.com.

Bush referenced his mother several other times during the evening: To praise her 25 years of education advocacy and talking about her suggestion that he not seek the presidency.  

 “Now we’re ready to take the next step in bridging an early learning gap in our communities,” said the former governor, while announcing the Family and Community Connections Initiative. “For the first time we will take a communitywide approach by partnering with multiple adult literacy and early childhood providers.”

“And by the end of the year,” Bush said. “Lee County parents who have children five and under will be able to apply for Barbara Bush scholarships valued at $2,500, which is a really good sum.”

The goal of the program is to connect two distinct types of providers, which typically operate in communities individually and independently. He discussed “intergenerational learning opportunities for young families,” so both parents and youngsters can learn together.

As for the Crist comment, Bush might have listened to his mother, but perhaps not so much when he decides whether to become the third U.S. president in the Bush family.

“That protective mother instinct, I think, has kicked up a couple times in the last few months about whether it not I’m going to run,” Bush told NaplesNews.com before the event. “I always listen to my mother; I don’t always follow her advice — I’ve gotten in trouble sometimes for not following it — but in this case I’m going to wait until later this year to decide.”

The decision on a White House run hinges on several factors, Bush said, including whether it is ideal for his family and if he can do it with joy in his heart. He also will do it to raise spirits of Americans, which he feels is something the country desperately needs.

Politics is an ugly business, Bush said. “It’s always been ugly, but it seems to have gotten a little bit uglier.”

Although Jeb Bush spoke extensively of his mother, it was another mother — from Central America — that received the most attention that night.

Maria Flores Arguelles, a former El Salvadorian state police officer, who became a dishwasher upon arriving in America, told her story in broken English. Arguelles received a standing ovation from the crowd, not only for what she’s overcome, but also for the power of education and literacy.

“When I arrived I couldn’t understand anyone or anything, I couldn’t speak English when I took my children to the doctor or the dentist,” Arguelles explained.

She talked about finding the Grace Place adult literacy program, and starting on the road to learn English. “Now I feel happy, thankful and proud. God bless you.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.