Steamboat residents reflect on Reagan

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News of former President Ronald Reagan's death reached Sen. Jack Taylor and Routt County Republican Party secretary Jennifer Schubert-Akin as they drove home from Saturday's state party convention in Denver.

Like many Republicans contemplating the iconic conservative president's passing, both recalled Reagan as the "Great Communicator" who helped bring about the end of the Cold War and introduced a new era of democracy in Eastern Europe.

"He was a great president who brought out the best in people; he was eternally optimistic," Schubert-Akin said. "It was amazing we could ever become friends with the Russians again, but he was so good at talking to people."

Taylor, too, recalled Reagan's legacy as a positive one.

"He was able to bring people together and solve problems on a worldwide basis," said Taylor, noting the demise of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall.

"The tendency upon the death of a president is to look at the positive, but certainly it is very real that he had a positive effect on the country," Republican Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "It should never be forgotten that he was the one who helped in the demise of the Soviet Union."

Reagan's historic 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall, in which he famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" epitomized his presidency, former Routt County Republican Party chairman Gil Gilbertson said.

"He brought the country from having the threat of the Cold War go on, possibly until now," Gilbertson said. "He let it be known that if you give the American people money to spend, they will do a better job of stimulating the economy than if you give it to the government."

Others would respectfully disagree.

Social sciences professor Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who teaches political science at Colorado Mountain College, has a more critical view of the Reagan years.

"The deficit went up dramatically because of massive tax cuts, the bulk of which went to the upper 10 percent (of the income bracket), while increasing defense spending and cutting social programs," she said, noting the Iran-Contra affair, the costly savings and loan bailout and questionable policies in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala also are part of the popular president's legacy.

"It's true, under the Reagan watch, that some of the most significant arms treaties were signed, but that's not a one-way street, and it's not because of his charismatic personality. It's because things had changed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and he capitalized on those changes" she said. "It's a misnomer to say he brought about the end of the Cold War. It was Mikhail Gorbachev coming to the table and reaching out. If it had been the old Soviet leadership, (Leonid) Brezhnev, who knows?"

Reagan left office with the highest popularity rating of any retiring president, a popularity that seemingly endures with area Republicans. On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Mitsch Bush thinks that while the man himself was good,"his legacy was mixed, at best."

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