Select Crowd Pleased with Presidential Visitby Anna King and Jeff St. John, Herald staff writers
Tri-City Herald, August 23, 2003
Cars steadily rolled into a dusty parking lot at Hood Park near Burbank Heights -- and by 8 a.m. Friday the hazy scene looked like a county fair.
Hundreds of invited Republican supporters and a few salmon advocates gathered in anticipation of President Bush's visit.
They were herded by police into semi-orderly lines before climbing onto buses for a short ride to Ice Harbor Dam.
Wearing everything from straw hats to formal attire, crowd members eagerly shared their enthusiasm with one another as they waited.
"I am interested in what he has to say about salmon," said Sue Miller, a Franklin County commissioner. "Not because I'm a Republican, but because I am a farmer."
Others hoped Bush also would talk about dams in a positive light.
"I think the president and his management team have done a superb job with the balance of salmon recovery and economic recovery in this state," said Max Benitz Jr., a Benton County commissioner.
After passing fields of various crops, the boisterous crowd was unloaded at Ice Harbor Dam and shown where the president would speak.
As at the airport, security officers checked bags and everyone was sent through a metal detector. Maple bars and drinks awaited. People mingled and traded business cards in a gated seating area as they waited for the president's speech.
A dramatic view of the dam provided the backdrop to a simple podium, as a wash of artificial lights contrasted with the gray sky.
Parmeter volunteered to help set up the area for the president's speech.
"It was interesting," he said, smiling.
Large bales of alfalfa hay that had been stacked high to create a security perimeter permeated the air with a musty, sweet scent.
Between the speeches by an Army Corps of Engineers representative, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and President Bush, upbeat patriotic music blared from loudspeakers.
The crowd enthusiastically welcomed Bush and periodically erupted into hoots and applause as he addressed his support for agriculture and keeping the four lower Snake River dams.
Environmental groups such as Save Our Wild Salmon argue the dams should be breached or removed to help salmon runs recover.
After the president's speech, Republican supporters and the press mobbed him for pictures, autographs and hugs. Bush shook hands with the crowd for about 15 minutes.
Jan Moravek of Richland received a presidential hug.
"It was pretty impromptu," she said. "I was privileged enough to be at his inauguration." There, she said, Jeb Bush, Florida's governor and the president's brother, gave her a hug.
"So I told him this," Moravek said, "and not to be outdone by his brother, he gave me a hug."
Predictably, Bush's speech was well received by the many farmers, agricultural supporters and Republicans who attended.
"I liked to see him support the dams," said Doug Ankrom, a Prescott farmer and Walla Walla County president of the Washington Farm Bureau. "I think they're a great asset to the area, and I think they can exist with fish."
Anna Kane of Kennewick was one of those who cheered on the president's speech.
"I thought it was wonderful," she said. "I agree completely."
Some in the crowd, however, said the group didn't offer an accurate cross-section of the differing views on salmon and the dams.
"Our opinion on this is it was basically speaking to a group of people that were hand-picked, definitely on one side of an issue," said Anthony Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe from Idaho.
And Johnson added, Bush may have been too quick to claim victory for improved salmon runs. Some studies have linked the improved salmon runs of recent years to other factors, including favorable ocean conditions.
After the president was whisked away, a reluctant crowd shuffled down the road toward the buses. Whether they agreed with his politics or not, all seemed to think it was a privilege to have seen the country's leader.
"It's a great honor to even have the president here in the state of Washington," Benitz said.
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