Local Leaders Call George H.W. Bush A Patriot
NANTICOKE — Local leaders remembered former President George H.W. Bush on Saturday as a patriot and a gentleman who served his country with dignity.
Former U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat from Nanticoke, called Bush a “fine gentleman” who was always respectful despite their political differences.
“He was a true gentleman. It’s something you miss today,” Kanjorski said. “The Republicans can be proud of George Bush.”
Bush died Friday at his home in Houston at the age of 94. Local lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were quick to commemorate Bush’s service — from being a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II to director of the Central Intelligence Agency to becoming the 41st president of the United States.
“George H.W. Bush compiled a distinguished record of service and leadership matched by few over the last century,” state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Twp., said Saturday. “We will never forget his courage during war and his character during peace. He was a man of many talents and abilities who for the greater part of his lifetime put the needs and interests of our nation first. Although never entirely at ease in the role of politician, he filled the role of statesman admirably. His remarkable life partnership with Barbara served as a positive example to all of us. With the accomplishments of his children, the Bushes stand in history alongside the Adamses as great American public families.”
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, also issued a statement extolling Bush’s virtues.
“He is an example of what public service truly means,” Pashinski said. “My heart goes out to his family as America has lost a patriot and a servant.”
David Yonki, a local political blogger and commentator, met Bush in the mid-1980s while Bush was serving as vice president under President Ronald Reagan. Members of the Wilkes-Barre Kiwanis Club had been holding a wheelchair charity event, and presented Bush with information about the endeavor, he said.
“What is on my mind today is his legacy,” Yonki said Saturday. “In his one term he charted America through the choppy seas of history with the fall of communism. He was the right man at the right time. God knows what might have happened if his steady and calm hand was not at the helm.”
Although not a native of Pennsylvania, Bush had some local ties, including being a longtime friend of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. In 1988, Paterno gave the speech at the Republican National Convention that seconded Bush’s nomination.
During that year’s campaign, Bush made a stop in Luzerne County, appearing before a crowd of about 500 supporters at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport for a stump speech.
“I’m not going to raise taxes,” Bush told the crowd, invoking the now-infamous line he delivered at that year’s convention: “Read my lips: No new taxes.”
Kanjorski said that after Bush won the election, then-House Speaker Tom Foley asked him to support a budget compromise that Democrats worked out with Republicans. That compromise did not raise taxes, and Kanjorski refused to support it because he believed a tax hike was required to avoid a major deficit, he said.
In the end, the budget that passed raised taxes.
“That probably precipitated his defeat,” Kanjorski said of Bush losing his bid for re-election to a second term. “It wasn’t done with that intent. I hadn’t anticipated ahead that it would have that kind of an impact on the election, quite frankly. I thought it was the most responsible thing to do.”
Kanjorski, who was chairman of a subcommittee that had jurisdiction over White House spending, admitted to being “pretty rough” on the president at times, but said Bush always handled it like a gentleman — and even with a dose of humor. He recalled one breakfast meeting at the White House at which members of Congress found only pastries and coffee being served.
“His comment to them as part of the presentation was, ‘When you go back up, blame it on Paul Kanjorski.’” Kanjorski recalled. “So he had good humor about things.”
Kanjorski said he hopes Bush’s legacy will be to highlight that kind of attitude — demonstrating that Americans can respectfully disagree with one another.
“I think this may be a corrective feature for the people that have supported the present president, to realize that there’s another way and that you don’t have to be as crude,” Kanjorski said. “You really can have a kinder, gentler man — and that’s what Americans want the presidency to be. When everything else is weakened or it fails, that we can turn with certainty to the security of knowing we have the best of character in office.”
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