By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 2, 2007
Jeb Bush prayed as much of the nation watched the 2000 presidential election results roll in.
His older brother, Republican candidate George W. Bush, relied on him as his campaign chairman to deliver Florida, an important state needed to win the national election. But the initial reports showed the state favoring his opponent.
In that too-close-to-call atmosphere Jeb Bush said he turned to God.
“I prayed in the governor’s mansion at 2 o’clock in the morning when it was total chaos,” he said.
In his July 28 remarks to the 11th Youth and Family Encounter conference in Atlanta, the two-term Republican governor of Florida spoke about what he called his “faith journey” and how he relied on his beliefs to influence decisions as the chief executive of Florida. Regnum Christi, a lay movement connected to the Legionaries of Christ, organized the event.
During quiet times of prayer, Bush, who is 54, said he reconnected with his core convictions.
“Jesus was my best political advisor,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.
Bush said he didn’t believe a person should put a wall between faith and a role as a public leader.
“I don’t know how one can do that. As governor I didn’t do that. I tried not to,” he said.
“I don’t think you can separate your personal faith from your public actions, and I don’t think you need to. I think transparent, openly expressing your faith is a good thing,” said Bush as the crowd applauded.
He noted how some Florida bishops would “gently chide” him for some of his political positions.
Bush was one of the headliners at the weeklong conference at the Georgia World Congress Center, talking to a friendly audience of young families, priests and youngsters. His appearance in front of the large crowd prompted a standing ovation before saying a word. His wife, Columba, got the same friendly reception when she spoke briefly to the crowd in Spanish.
Bush’s speech touched on a range of issues, including a call for treating illegal immigrants with dignity and urging partnerships between faith-based groups and the government.
To William Hobbs, of Indiana, Bush’s remarks revealed how politicians should not keep their faith in a box.
The 32-year-old Hobbs, a seminary instructor, said elected officials should be “true to themselves and their faith” while serving in office. Hobbs was one of the three people selected to ask Bush questions after his remarks.
Interviewed after his talk, Jill Hendrickson, of Illinois, said Bush spoke well about the challenges of a faithful person holding elected office. Hendrickson, a stay-at-home mom, said it is not realistic to expect public officials who are faithful to ignore that important part of a person’s life just because they are elected. Hendrickson, 42, was also impressed by how Bush, as governor, spoke passionately about the Terri Schiavo case, saying that a politician could have just skated around the controversy.
The former governor was raised an Episcopalian but became a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“I am not an apostle. I am moving toward where I need to be,” he said.
During his eight years in office, Bush faced several hurricane recovery efforts, a controversial plan to revamp the state’s educational system and other political challenges. He was governor during the 2005 controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo and signed “Terri’s Law” to keep her alive. The courts overturned the law.
“For a public servant, you are constantly tested, and if I did not have my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I would have been exhausted in the first year of service,” he said.
Too often politicians focus on the short-term gains and the political advantages, he said, instead of looking at issues from a broader and long-term perspective.
He said Florida learned that people of faith can act together with the government to improve society. The state government provides money for abstinence programs, to operate faith-based prisons, and gives millions of dollars for crisis pregnancy centers, he said.
“One of the first lessons I learned as governor was partnership— where you can tear down barriers that allow people to act on their faith is important,” he said.
Another lesson he emphasized is to respect the dignity of people, from the youngest to the oldest and people who are developmentally disabled.
Bush spoke out for the rights of immigrants, even illegal immigrants.
In recovering from a hurricane, every person deserves the same help, he said.
“Those immigrants that may not have legal papers are just as important, have the same dignity as the governor of the state or anybody else in that state,” he said.