Washington, Oct. 25 – When Gov. Jeb Bush was yelled at for not helping the developmentally disabled by a mom of a child with autism, the then-gubernatorial candidate said, “teach me.”
“She didn’t know me but … she was mad at me,” Bush said at LIBRE Initiative’s policy forum series at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas last Wednesday.
Bush was gearing up for his second run for governor in 1998 when he met Berthy Aponte, a Colombian American who had a 14-year-old daughter with autism and “severe developmental disabilities.”
Berthy taught Bush “that everybody has value in society,” but was worried what would happen to her child if she outlived her and her husband.
“So I said, teach me,” Bush said when Berthy asked him for a solution.
“I spent four days in that next month where I learned about the plight of families like Berthy’s and Milton’s,” Bush said. “And the net result is I’ve probably become one of the experts in public life on dealing with people that have severe disabilities.”
Bush, who is now friends with Berthy and her family, put these lessons to work when he was elected governor. “I actually took the time to listen, and I know that we can create a better program,” Bush said. “The legislature obliged me three months later. We funded the programs. We reformed them. And now I think Florida’s one of the models for the developmentally disabled.”
“Why does that matter?” Bush continued. “Well, 30,000 families think it matters. Milton and Berthy Aponte know it matters because they now know that there is going to be support for them as they get into their retirement years. They know that someone will love Lucy and the federal government and the state government in partnership will provide for them.”
2,583,901 people with a disability live in Florida, including 1,116,000 people ages 21 to 64. Just thirty percent of people with disabilities of working age (18-64) are employed, compared to 72.2 percent of those without disabilities.
Bush went on to say that while he believes it is important to cut taxes and spending, there are some items that need to be funded well.
“As a consistent conservative that cut taxes, that cut spending on things that were not the most important things, this should be a high priority. Taking care of the most vulnerable in our society should be a core value for this country.”
Later during Q&A, Bush was asked about funding for education. Bush talked about Florida’s voucher program for children with learning disabilities. If a public school could not meet the child’s individualized education plan, Bush said the child’s parents could move the child to a private school that would be better.
The LIBRE Initiative, which has collected millions of dollars from the Koch brothers, seeks to promote conservative values and advance libertarian principles among Hispanic voters. The events provide an opportunity for the Hispanic community and others to pose questions about key issues including economy, education, healthcare and immigration to an influential policymaker. Fellow Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio addressed the LIBRE Forum earlier this fall.
Those in attendance, both who claimed to be liberal and conservative, were open to Bush’s campaign values.
“Bush seems like he cares about the community, and that’s what I look for in a leader,” said CSN student Frank Canales.
“I hope you want a leader that actually takes the time to listen, that doesn’t have the arrogance to think that he’s got it all figured out without ever taking the time to actually listen to people and grow and learn,” Bush said.