From the halls of Congress to the streets of Snohomish County, President Reagan’s election in 1980 dramatically affected the hearts, minds and politics of the nation.
Former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., also won election that year, and said the force of change powered by Reagan’s policies and persona was palpable.
“The tremendous challenge and excitement of the first six months of his presidency represented the sharpest change in American politics in the 20th century, with the exception of the beginning of the Great Depression,” Gorton said Friday.
“I think we were all taken up by what was going on,” added Gorton, who serves on the national 9-11 commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Reagan’s two terms brought significant change in domestic and foreign policies that never drew support from former U.S. Rep. Al Swift, a Democrat who represented Snohomish County in his eight terms from 1978 to 1994.
“I didn’t agree with him on anything,”’ but the differences were not personal, Swift said. “The man had an enormous amount of grace and class. The way he carried himself, the elan, was really quite extraordinary. Whether you agreed with him or not, you had to admire him.”
Swift said he finds the current rush to pay tribute to Reagan excessive. He found it ironic that the supreme opponent of big government could end up having his name on the Pentagon, one of the largest federal buildings.
“I can’t think Ronald Reagan would be so eager to have everything named after him,” Swift said.
Frauna Hoglund, chairwoman of the Snohomish County Republican Party, credits Reagan with restoring her faith in the wake of the Vietnam War.
“I became a strong activist after that,” she said. “I consider myself a Reagan Republican. I hardly know a person who wasn’t inspired by Ronald Reagan.”
Paul Elvig, a former chairman of the county Republican Party, had the opportunity in 1980 to be a presidential elector for Washington state who cast a vote for Reagan in the nation’s electoral college.
Standing outside Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell, he said his strongest recollection of Reagan came after the president was shot.
“I remember how he reacted, what he said, and what that did for people. I’ll never forget the way he responded,” Elvig said. “It was the first time I felt I was in the presence of pure leadership.”
Gary Nelson was majority leader of the state House of Representatives when he met the newly elected President Reagan in 1981.
“I immediately felt his charismatic personality. He made everybody feel very important,” said Nelson, a Republican who is now a Snohomish County council member.
He credited Reagan for a foreign policy that helped end the Cold War, a domestic policy that shrank the size of government and leadership that instilled hope in the country.
“There’s no question in my mind,” he said, “that the things he did as president will achieve a ranking as among the most important of any president.”