“A man to be admired”: Local leaders remember George H.W. Bush
When Jim Jones heard of the passing of President George H.W. Bush this past Friday, he said he felt a deep sense of loss.
Jones, a former Idaho attorney general and retired Idaho Supreme Court justice, met with Bush three times during his service as attorney general.
Jones described the 41st president of the United States as thoughtful and kind.
“He had people coming in by the droves every day,” Jones said. “But the third time we met, he had a lineup of us shaking hands, and he called me by name. I was just floored. I thought, ‘How the heck did he remember that?’”
And though he said he greatly admired and respected the person that Bush was, he didn’t mourn the death of the man so much as the death of what he stood for.
“It was a real sense of loss of something other than loss of a person,” Jones said. “It’s the loss of honor and dignity that he brought to the country.”
Arlen Wittrock, a current Pocatello resident who was a former chief of staff to a U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, said he met Bush several times through his position and felt the same sense of patriotism and dedication that Jones did.
“He was always very friendly and very cordial, and I think that depicts the life he led,” Wittrock said. “He was an individual who always saw a kinder, gentler world, very different from the politics that we currently experience in this day.”
Though Jones and Wittrock met with Bush outside of Idaho, the former president visited the state nine different times between the late 1970s and early 1990s, according to the Times-News.
He expressed a fondness for the state, particularly when he attended a Salmon River fishing trip organized by Sen. Jim McClure, the Times-News reported.
He also had some mild frights while in the Gem State. The first incident was during a 1986 visit, when someone reported to the sheriff a man with a gun in the vicinity of the president. It turned out to be a Secret Service agent. On another visit in 1982, Bush was dining at a Boise restaurant when someone walked past with a shotgun. Upon further investigation, the gun was unloaded, and the person who held it was just passing and meant no threat to the president.
Bush’s mild temperament and tendency to compromise was at times equal parts revered and criticized by state and national Republicans.
“He always sought compromise, and that was both a politic strength and a political weakness of his,” Wittrock said, citing Bush’s infamous promise, “read my lips: no new taxes.”
Bush made the vow at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted his nomination for president. It was a major part of his election campaign, a promise to not allow the tax increases Democrats were so heavily pushing for.
However, in a 1990 budget agreement, Bush did agree to a compromise which would increase several existing taxes.
The move sparked criticism from Republicans all over the country, but Jones said it is yet another example of the man’s commitment to his country.
“When it came to the point where it was apparent that we had to have more revenue, I think he knew it was probably a death note to his re-election campaign, but he did it anyway,” Jones said. “You wouldn’t find many people nowadays who would put their political future on the line to do what’s right, and he did.”
Jones said he believed Bush would have been greatly admired by the first U.S. president, George Washington, who crusaded for national interests to take priority over matters of political parties.
“We’ve had so much political party interest and partisanship that we kind of lose sight of the fact that we’re all in the boat together,” Jones said. “And George H.W. Bush knew that.”
U.S. Sen. James Risch remembered Bush as incredibly human.
”He was very approachable,” Risch said. “You could actually have a two-way conversation with him.”
Risch added that he loved to joke and was very engaged with everyone he met. Additionally, he was slow to anger. In fact, Risch said the only time he saw Bush upset was when the Secret Service put the president into the limousine first in pouring rain.
“Vicki (my wife) and I were standing out in the rain, and he was really unhappy with the Secret Service for letting her stand out in the rain like that,” Risch said. “He said, ’you open that door, and get her in here.”
Risch said was always civil and skilled at handing adversity and controversy. Wittrock said that though he did not agree with some of the decisions made by Bush while he was in power, he always viewed the man with respect.
“I think you learn from all that have gone before, and you learn from both the good and the bad,” Wittrock said. “I think even President Bush realized that he had made some mistakes. But he was a man to be admired.”