TALLAHASSEE -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush returned to the state capital on Thursday where he was showered with high praise and urged to run for president by fellow Republicans.
Bush was making his first visit to Tallahassee in more than three years -- and the first since Gov. Rick Scott took office.
He made stops in the Florida Capitol where he talked to legislators about education and immigration -- while stopping short of rendering his opinion on such items as Scott's own pitch this year to give teachers an across-the-board $2,500 pay raise.
"The legislature is about ready to start," Bush said. "I'm here to say hello to friends and to advance the cause of rising student achievement."
Both House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz gave a warm welcome as did House Republicans. Following a short Bush speech several House members made sure to snap pictures alongside of Bush, who is mentioned as a potential presidential candidate for 2016.
Gaetz, R-Niceville, made a direct pitch for Bush to run, asking him directly when the bus is leaving for Iowa, the home of the caucuses that start the nominating process. He noted that Bush "didn't say no" about running.
"Jeb Bush would be a great president," Gaetz said. "I would get on the bus and go to Iowa and wear out my shoes and knock my knuckles raw for him."
When asked about Gaetz's comment Bush smiled and called him a "sweet guy."
Bush's profile has been on the rise in recent months. He is scheduled to release a book on immigration in early March and he has been making stops in state capitals as he continues his push for education law changes.
His trip to Tallahassee included more than just a visit to legislators. Bush also held a fundraiser for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and a meet and greet with alumni of his administration. Bush was governor from 1999 to 2007.
Weatherford -- who called himself a "Jeb Bush fan" -- said he had a "candid" conversation about several issues. But Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he did not discuss specific legislative proposals such as Scott's pay raise plan or a new "parent trigger" bill that would let parents have a vote in what steps should be taken with failing public schools.
The parent trigger bill was narrowly defeated last year in the Senate after it came under fire as a way to allow for-profit charter schools to take over schools. A new version has been filed again for the 2013 session.
Bush said he did not have an opinion on Scott's teacher pay plan which has not been warmly embraced by Republican legislators so far. But he defended the return of the parent trigger measure. He said the bill doesn't mandate that schools be converted to charter schools, but that it gives parents a role in the decision.
"It just simply says parents' voices matter," Bush said. "If that's a radical idea in America today then we're in a heap of trouble."
Bush did not meet with Scott during his one-day visit. Scott was in South Florida where he attended a ribbon cutting for a company that announced last year it is expanding its Florida operations.
Scott administration emails show that Bush's staff offered six different times for a possible Thursday meeting. But Scott's chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth emailed Patricia Levesque, the chief executive officer of Bush's foundation, to tell her Scott would be out of town.
"If we can accommodate your request in other ways please let us know," Hollingsworth wrote. "Also, if Governor Bush would like to work out of our office while he is here, please let him know he is welcome."