For­mer con­gress­man re­calls Bush as states­man

Times-Record - - NEWS - By DANIEL DIVILIO [email protected]­coun­

CHESTERTOWN — Wayne Gilchrest, the East­ern Shore’s for­mer con­gress­man, has a pic­ture of him­self with re­cently de­ceased Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush at the White House taken as he was in the mid­dle of his first suc­cess­ful bid for of­fice.

Talk­ing about the photo in an in­ter­view Mon­day, Dec. 10, led Gilchrest, a Repub­li­can who served in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 1991 to 2009, to re­flect not just on that meet­ing, but on Bush as a pres­i­dent, a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can and states­man and a man of char­ac­ter.

Bush died at the age of 94 in his Hous­ton, Texas home Nov. 30. He served as pres­i­dent from 1989 to 1993, was vice pres­i­dent for eight years un­der Ron­ald Rea­gan be­fore that and served as the head of the CIA for one year un­der Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford. He also was a war hero, a United Na­tions en­voy, head of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and served in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for four years.

“We took for granted how con­ge­nial he was. You know we didn’t think any­thing of it,” Gilchrest said. “He was so easy to talk to. No pre­tense. No bom­bas­tic, vit­ri­olic com­ments about any­body.”

Gilchrest was a Kent County High School teacher mak­ing his sec­ond bid for Congress in 1990 when he was asked to the White House to meet Bush. He said Bush had ne­go­ti­ated for a tax in­crease with Democrats that would no­tably re­sult in an $8-a-month in­crease in Medi­care taxes.

“And my re­ac­tion was that if that’s go­ing to keep Medi­care sol­vent and bal­ance the fed­eral bud­get that’s a good idea. So I was the only — ap­par­ently — Repub­li­can can­di­date in the United States that de­fended Bush’s po­si­tion,” Gilchrest said.

His back­ing of the Medi­care tax in­crease led to the un­ex­pected White House in­vi­ta­tion, a chat with Bush and a photo-op.

“And of course that was used in our cam­paign. And we got a lot of press out of it, good or bad, we just got a lot of press out of it,” said Gilchrest, who found him­self the win­ner on elec­tion night in 1990.

In putting Bush’s time as pres­i­dent in his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, Gilchrest spoke about how the world was in the on­go­ing saga that in­cluded the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and the Iron Cur­tain and by Iraq’s in­va­sion of Kuwait.

Gilchrest said that while Bush re­ceived crit­i­cism for not be­ing strong enough, peo­ple need only look at how he stead­fastly han­dled such try­ing and sig­nif­i­cant events. Gilchrest spoke about how strong a states­man Bush was through­out all of that.

“With his con­nec­tion to world lead­ers, that was a sense of se­cu­rity,” he said. “He was do­ing all the right things.”

Gilchrest said that when see­ing im­ages of Iraqi fir­ing squads lin­ing up Kuwaitis, Bush knew ex­actly what to do. He said like­wise when Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm ended abruptly, the pres­i­dent opted not to push on to Baghdad as U.S. pi­lots were re­port­ing mis­sions re­sult­ing in as they called it “a sea of slaugh­ter.”

Back on the cam­paign trail in 1992 for a sec­ond term, Gilchrest found him­self again in close con­tact with Bush, this time in a Se­cret Ser­vice car trav­el­ing from Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground through Har­ford County.

“So we rode from Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground up (U.S.) Route 40 that was lined with a lot of peo­ple. And he was wav­ing to every­body. And we were able to chat, about my cam­paign, about his cam­paign and the other is­sues that were rel­e­vant at the time,” Gilchrest said.

A third such meet­ing came in An­napo­lis, when Bush was there with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Boris Yeltsin. They also were joined by then-Gov. Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer.

“Yeah, he had a plan for the world,” Gilchrest said of Bush.

There were other trips to the White House with Gilchrest’s fel­low Re­pub­li­cans. Gilchrest said pres­i­den­tial meet­ings with House mem­bers hap­pened most fre­quently un­der Bush than any other pres­i­dent dur­ing his time as a con­gress­man.

“And he would come down to the House on reg­u­lar oc­ca­sions,” Gilchrest said of Bush, not­ing that the pres­i­dent did not nec­es­sar­ily hit the House floor, but could be found in what is re­ferred to as the “cloak­room,” where mem­bers could meet or grab a sand­wich, at the time made by a woman who had worked there since the 1930s when she started with her father.

Gilchrest said Bush was ap­proach­able on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, im­por­tant to the for­mer con­gress­man who now heads up pro­gram­ming at the Sas­safras En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter at Turner’s Creek. Gilchrest holds Bush’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor, Wil­liam K. Reilly, in high re­gard and spoke about how Bush was bet­ter po­si­tioned than Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton to look at cli­mate change.

Gilchrest called Bush the “quintessen­tial mod­er­ate Repub­li­can.” He spoke about the pas­sage of the Brady Bill un­der Bush im­pos­ing a fed­eral five-day wait­ing pe­riod on firearm pur­chases and about a ban on the im­por­ta­tion of as­sault ri­fles for recre­ational pur­poses.

While Gilchrest wanted to be cau­tious not to li­on­ize Bush, whose pres­i­dency is not with­out crit­i­cism, for the for­mer con­gress­man, Bush main­tained the line of dis­tin­guished pres­i­dents that peo­ple could look to for lead­er­ship.

“There’s some­thing real — and it’s real — about char­ac­ter that’s based on courage and in­tegrity and com­pe­tence. You know, that’s the fer­tile soil that makes democ­racy work for sure,” Gilchrest said.


Then-con­gress­man Wayne Gilchrest, left, meets with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in the White House while on the cam­paign trail in 1990.

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