STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Republicans, to be seen as a young and dynamic political party, must present a positive agenda that restores opportunity for social mobility and reforms the nation's immigration policies, former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Thursday.
Bush, appearing at a major fundraiser named after his late grandfather U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, received loud applause from the crowd of nearly 800 Connecticut Republicans for his immigration reform stance. He spoke of the need to have compassion for those who've entered the U.S. illegally.
"The simple fact is, there is no conflict between enforcing our laws, believing in the rule of law and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience, which is part of who we are as a country," Bush told the crowd gathered at the Stamford Hilton.
Bush received a backlash from some in his party when he recently described illegal immigration as an "act of love" by people hoping to provide for their families. He contended Thursday that the comments were not new and he was only reflecting a position he has held for the past three or four years.
"The system is broken right now," he said. "So to perpetuate a system that's broke won't solve our problems. Fixing it and making it an economically driven system will be part of the catalytic converter of sustained economic growth."
Bush made no public statement on whether he plans to seek the GOP's presidential nomination, but some speakers hinted at the possibility of a third Bush presidency. Two-time U.S. Senate candidate and former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who received the annual Prescott Bush Award, said she hoped Jeb Bush would give the crowd "the inside track" on the state of the GOP in the 2016 presidential race.
Hanging over the annual dinner, the Connecticut GOP's largest fundraising event, was news that former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland had been indicted on charges he tried to hide his role in a congressional campaign. Many Republicans didn't want to speak publicly about the indictment, but former state GOP Chairman Chris DePino said he was sad for Rowland and his family.
The indictment comes 10 years after Rowland resigned in a corruption scandal. Rowland, who served 10 months in a federal prison camp on a corruption-related charge, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
The party's current chairman, Jerry Labriola Jr., downplayed the development. He said Rowland "has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party nor has he for over 10 years."
Rowland was a friend of former President George H.W. Bush and members of the Bush family, but Jeb Bush made no mention of the latest scandal in his address. Instead, he spoke of the need for more school choice, the repeal of the new health care law, fixing the entitlement system, reforming the federal tax code and regulatory system and high, sustained economic growth, "where everybody has a chance for earned success."
Bush also took at jab at Connecticut's tax policies, a major criticism lodged by Republican candidates against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who recently announced he will seek a second term.