Bush impresses small contingent from peninsula

Posted: Monday, February 18, 2002

When President George Bush visited Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage Saturday, nearly 4,000 Alaska residents turned out to see him speak.

Among the many military and civilian guests were a number of Kenai Peninsula residents, who were either invited by the Alaska congressional office as community leaders or who attended a Republican fund-raising event held in the president's honor.

Peninsula residents were excited about having the opportunity to share the same space with Bush and offered a variety of remarks on what the president had to say and how he said it.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley was in attendance at Elmendorf, and he said he was impressed with seeing the president in person and with his oratory.

"I've never seen a president before in real life," Bagley said. "That was pretty interesting. Maybe it was something I didn't see, but I didn't see a teleprompter or see him looking at notes. I was watching that because I give a lot of speeches."

Soldotna Mayor David Carey and Kenai Mayor John Williams also commented on the president's speech delivery.

"I found the president was a much better speaker than I anticipated," said Carey, who didn't recall Bush looking at many, if any, cards while speaking.

"It speaks very well of democracy, that a nobody like myself would get to go."

Williams said he found the speech to be very earnest.

"The president gave a very impassioned speech," Williams said. "It wasn't something that came directly off a paper. It was something it seemed he truly believed in."

Bush sounded off on his commitment to winning the war on terrorism and unifying the nation under the call to service, his efforts to open up oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and tax cuts, stirring commentary from the peninsula contingent.

"These are conservative themes that are well liked in Alaska for the most part," said Kenai City Council member Duane Bannock, who attended the $1,000-per-person Alaska Republican Party fund-raiser at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where the speech was aired and the president made a brief appearance.

Bagley said there was one topic most important to Alaskans.

"He hit a lot of hot-blooded issues, like (not raising) taxes in a recession," Bagley said. "But ANWR is the nearest and dearest."

Williams said he also found Bush's words on the potential oil field encouraging.

"He hammered home the point that he knew the need for a national energy policy," Williams said. "We need to open up ANWR. I'm positive of our ability to produce oil with the minimal amount of damage to environment."

Bagley traveled to Anchorage with Mike Tauriainen, a former member of the borough school board. Tauriainen said he found particular pleasure with Bush's position on taxes.

"I really appreciated his comment about reducing taxes and that it's our money and not the government's," he said. "(Gov.) Tony Knowles and (Lt. Gov.) Fran Ulmer were on the stage and I saw both of them half-heartedly clapping. I hope they took that to heart."

Carey said he was stirred by the president's stand on service, and how it reflected on one Alaska company.

"I liked what he said about feeding the world," he said. "Twice, he spoke about farmers and ranchers doing their jobs, and knowing what Agrium does to contribute."

Bannock, who attended the Republican fund-raiser as a guest of his employer, Kenai Chrysler owner Bob Favretto, questioned the president's correlation between fighting terrorism and helping one's neighbors.

"That might have been a stretch," Bannock said. "It still does give you a good feeling, though.



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