President George H.W. Bush is known to have been a decent, witty and down-to-earth person. Thanks to the late Senator Bill Raggio, I was able to record one of the more amusing, and lesser-known, Nevada connections the President made while in office, as described here in an excerpt from my 2011 book A Man of Word: The Life & Times of Nevada’s Senator William J Raggio.
On August 6, 1992, President Bush addressed the nearly two thousand American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) members in attendance at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. After thanking outgoing National Chair, Fred Noye for the introduction, the President said,
“You have done a great chairman’s job and I know that your shoes will be ably filled by Bill Raggio, over here, from the state of Nevada. Bill flew in with us last night from Reno on Air Force One, and all the White House stationery and matchboxes from the plane are missing. But he swears there’s no correlation whatsoever.”
In a 2008 interview, Bill Raggio described that flight:
“I met the President here in Reno and, as National Chair, I was invited to leave with him and fly to Colorado Springs for the ALEC national meeting. It was an interesting flight. After getting a tour of the airplane’s interior, the President invited me to sit with him in his private compartment. A pair of bedroom slippers with the Presidential Seal on them caught my eye. I thought, at the time, how unique it would be to own them. Later, when President Bush accused me in his speech of petty larceny for taking everything I could find bearing a Presidential Seal, I was almost sorry I hadn’t taken those slippers, too.”
In November 1992, after President Bush’s term of office ended, Bill Raggio, still the National Chair of ALEC, nominated the former President to receive the organization's highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award.
As Raggio recalled later:
“There was some feeling, some resistance, in ALEC that Bush had not been conservative enough when he was President. They held that against him and did not think he should receive the Jefferson Award. I felt very strongly that he should be honored and that he had been an outstanding President in difficult times and so should be given the Award.”
Bill swayed a majority to his point of view, and joined several other ALEC board members in going to Houston and personally presenting the award to the former President.
Bill was delighted by the reception they received:
“He took time with us, at least an hour, and showed us around the office and the memorabilia that he had been given when he was President. We had a good general discussion about ALEC, and ALEC principles and where the country was going. He was cordial and very gracious and pleased to have received it.”