Age: 43 Address: 3717 Crossgate Terrace Family: Wife, Sandy; three children, ages 13, 12, and 8. Occupation: Sales and marketing professional Substantial business interests: Bush listed no ownership interest in any corporation, partnership or rental property. He also listed no ownership of any stocks, mutual funds or retirement accounts greater than $5,000 in value.
The career path at one time seemed to be a straight line for James Bush — straight to a political office somewhere.
As a student at the University of South Carolina, he was on his way to getting a pair of powerful weapons for any aspiring politician — a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in speech. And, to top it off, he already had his foot firmly in the door. He was a staff member for the majority leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives — David Beasley, a man who would later become governor of the state.
So it should be no surprise that of the eight candidates running for the Lawrence City Commission, it is Bush who can’t seem to get enough of all things campaign-related.
“The presidential campaign was the most wonderful time of the year,” said Bush, who is a self-labeled political junkie who has bookshelves full of political biographies.
So, again, no surprise that Bush is the one candidate in the field who came back for more. Bush ran for the City Commission two years ago, winning enough votes to make it out of the primary but falling short in the general election, where he finished fifth. That left him undeterred.
“My values haven’t changed,” Bush said of why he is running again. “The things that matter to me haven’t changed. My passion for serving hasn’t changed. It all still matters to me.”
Sounds like a simple story — a career-minded politician traveling down that straight line. Simple, except for the fact that the only reason Bush is in Lawrence is because life seldom travels on a straight line.
After the University of South Carolina, Bush didn’t find himself atop a political perch. Instead, he found himself planted behind a pulpit. A desire to serve ultimately turned him in a different direction. He ended up with master’s in divinity, and in 2003 with a job as senior pastor at Lawrence’s First Southern Baptist Church.
That’s the way it stayed for awhile, but then came those darn twists and turns. And if you turn enough, you ultimately end up facing the direction you started. In the middle of the 2003 campaign, Bush left his position at First Southern Baptist Church because it was becoming difficult to balance that job with the job that he wanted to have in the political realm.
“For me, I needed to step out of the pastorate in order to step into more community involvement,” Bush said.
But that’s not to say that the journey hasn’t shaped him. Today, one of Bush’s central campaign messages has a bit of a pulpit feel. It centers on the age-old message that we’re more similar than we are different. We all want safe streets, good schools, a thriving downtown, good-paying jobs, Bush said. But on that portion where we don’t agree, Bush — like pastors sometimes do — invokes us to do better.
“I’ve seen as a community, that we’re really going to arm wrestle over that last 10 percent,” Bush said. “That is something we have to try to do something about, specifically when it comes to bringing jobs to Lawrence.
“We don’t want the reputation of a community that beats up on new businesses.”
The third shift
Bush, 43, spends a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about jobs. Some of that may come from the fact he grew up in a house that was one job loss away from having a real problem.
Six weeks after he was born, Bush’s father died. That meant his mother took a third shift job in the health care industry, and Bush — the youngest of three — grew up fast.
“Growing up in a single-parent home, you have a great appreciation of a work ethic,” said Bush, who is a sales and marketing director at Maceli’s, a downtown catering business. “You see it everyday.”
The family, Bush said, never took welfare nor state assistance. But his mother was one of eight children, so they took lots of help from family. Somewhere out of that, Bush’s calling towards public service took shape, he said.
As a high school student in a small New Jersey town between New York and Philadelphia, Bush volunteered for the community’s volunteer EMS program.
“I’m a firm believer that what makes a community work is the willingness of citizens to make a personal contribution,” Bush said.
Bush is sounding the alarm that Lawrence is falling off the radar screen when it comes to companies looking for new locations. Bush said he’s been told that at least two of the major site selection companies — firms that look for locations for major employers — no longer consider Lawrence.
“They see some of the policies we’ve put in place, and they say ‘we’re not going to select Lawrence,’” Bush said.
Bush hasn’t yet said he wants to eliminate the city’s living wage requirement — which requires companies that recently received tax abatements to pay all their employees at least $11.44 per hour. But he did say he believed the ordinance was hindering Lawrence’s job attraction efforts.
“I know that the living wage is one of the policies,” Bush said. “When a site selection company sees that, they are not going to look at the details. They’re just going to move on.”
On other issues, Bush said:
• He doesn’t support raising property tax rates to fill expected budget gaps.
• He said he would focus on preventing cuts to core city services such as fire, police, and sanitation services, but said that other worthy city departments or outside agencies that receive city funding may have to receive temporary reductions.
“I think we’ll have to consider asking different organizations or different city departments to go without for a year or two,” Bush said.