Jeb Bush Attracts Crowd to Opera House for Derry Visit

He’s not his father and he’s not his brother. “I don’t have the same fingerprint,” Jeb Bush said with a smile during his Town Hall meeting in Derry.

Bush, son of the 41st U.S. president and brother of the 43rd, chose the Derry Opera House for his first official engagement Tuesday, June 16, after announcing his run for President Monday. He was interviewed onstage by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity before throwing the meeting open to questions from the audience.

Though the Opera House auditorium had no air conditioning, people still crowded in on a muggy morning, leaving standing room only. Dave Nelson, a member of the Derry Arts Council that runs the Opera House, estimated that well over 200 turned out to see Bush. “We set up 241 chairs, and then there are all the standees,” Nelson said.

Bush detailed some of his priorities for Hannity and the audience, including cutting taxes and balancing the budget. As the Republican Governor of Florida, he said he brought the state to AAA bond rating, one of two in the country. The Federal government is controlled by “runaway spending,” he said.

Family income should be growing, Bush went on. He wants to see 4 percent growth, noting that with 2 percent growth, “the demands on the government will overwhelm us.

“The next President will inherit $20 trillion in debt, and it’s projected that 46 million Americans will be on food stamps,” Hannity said. “How will you address that?

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bush said. “People can’t dream big dreams any more. The challenge is not political – we need to be on the side of people who want to do better in life. The progressive agenda has failed them.”

Asked how he would balance the budget, Bush said, “Hillary Rodham Clinton would set us up for a big tax increase. We have to spend less, and not just discretionary spending.”

But he said he opposes cuts to the military. “The military has been gutted,” Bush said.

Bush is in favor of shifting the power of several Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services, back to the states.

During a short break, Jim Segalini of Londonderry said, “I’m trying to make a decision, so I go to as many of these as I can. So far I’m impressed. I think he cares about the American people, and I think he has the executive ability to be President.”

Don and Dottie Quigley of Windham said they weren’t decided about a Republican candidate.

“We’ve seen Christie, we’ve seen Rick Perry,” Dottie Quigley said. “We like to see as many as we can.” She noted that Christie is “completely different” in person, and lauded the New Hampshire tradition of town hall meetings and house parties.

“It’s one of the great traditions about New Hampshire,” Don Quigley said.

When the cameras rolled again, Hannity asked Bush about foreign policy. Bush said that after World War II, America had excellent relations with the rest of the world. Since the Obama administration, he said, “Our relations with Cuba are better, but not with the rest of the world. Iran is playing us like a Stradivarius violin.”

With Iran, he said, “We should never take the military option off the table.”

America has had some success with drones fighting terrorism in the Middle East, according to Bush. “But the relationships with countries we should be able to count on are at an all-time low,” he insisted.

“We need to be engaged in the world,” he added, saying if the United States had pulled out of Germany after the Second World War or Korea after the Korean Conflict, “it would have created chaos.”

He’s also concerned with Russia under Vladimir Putin, and with China. “I just got back from Poland and Estonia, and they see the threat every day,” he said. “They want the U.S. to be engaged with them.”

He also went on the record with Hannity as being in favor of keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but was not in favor of enhanced interrogation techniques or torture.

And he said he would like to see Clinton answer more questions. “I have been scrutinized like nobody’s business, and I’m okay with it,” Bush said. “She needs the same amount of scrutiny.”

Asked about immigration, Bush outlined a “path to residency” that allows immigrants to earn legal status through a provisional work certificate. “Over a period of time, they can earn legal status,” he said.

He’s in favor of the Common Core standards for education, noting that they are more rigorous than those in only a “handful” of states. But he wants to see school choice, accountability, and more local control of content.

“I have no problem with local standards, but I do want higher standards,” he said.

Before wading into the crowd and shaking hands, Bush summed up his philosophy: “I am a reform-minded conservative who led Florida in making life better for everyone. America should be a superpower. If we change her direction, life will be better for our children and grandchildren.”

His appearance brought out the same strong emotions present in his brother’s last term. Dozens of protestors with signs lined the street in front of the Opera House, pushing agendas from Common Core to climate control to Social Security and Medicare.

John Blithe of Manchester went into the Opera House and flashed a sign reading “Jeb got his new Pearl Harbor, 9/11.” He was ejected from the room by a member of the Bush team and continued to hold his sign outside. Bush, he said, was part of a group writing a document, “Rebuild America,” in 1997. “They recognized that it would be a slow process without a catalyzing event,” Blithe said. “This was years before 9/11. They planned it, and it radically transformed our foreign policy – the TSA, Homeland Security, basic human rights.”

Was Blithe aware that he might be ejected from the meeting? “Yes,” he said with a smile. “I was.”