Reagan Day Dinner: Speakers share stories of Reagan, confidence in party’s future

It wasn’t too long ago the Grand Old Party was losing elections, and nobody wanted to be Republican. Attorney James Bopp Jr. said times have changed, and folks are clamoring to the party of Reagan and Lincoln.

“Hardly anyone wanted to be a Republican a year and a half ago. Boy has that changed,” Bopp said as he addressed members of the Blount County Republican Party during their annual dinner on Friday, April 8. The banquet was held at William Blount High School. While usually dubbed the Lincoln Day Dinner, the event was renamed the Reagan Commemorative Dinner this year in honor of the late president’s 100th birthday.

In addition to Bopp, Ted Kirkman, a retired Secret Service agent who worked with Reagan and now lives in Friendsville, shared stories of working with President Reagan. He characterized the 40th president as a very conscientious individual who always went out of his way to thank those who served and protected the president and his family.

“Ronald Reagan was a personable individual and never met a stranger,” he said.

Kirkman said Reagan learned how to ride horses while working as an actor and often when he and the first lady returned to their ranch an hour and a half from Santa Barbara, Calif., they rode.

While Nancy Reagan enjoyed shopping at Century City, Ronald Reagan often took off to see his property. “He’d go out in an old Jeep, riding around with four or five dogs,” he said.

Nancy Reagan wasn’t as fond of horseback riding and preferred to talk on the phone. Kirkman said the president would always saddle his own horse and then hers before he would ring a bell and she would come out of the house for the ride.

“He had a military aid, a doctor, a staff person and some Secret Service personnel ready to go with him on one ride. He rang the bell, and the First Lady didn’t come out, so he rang the bell again. Finally he goes in the house and comes right back out, and she’s walking behind him with her eyes to the ground,” Kirkman said. “She was on the phone, and he had pulled it out of the wall.”

Kirkman said Ronald and Nancy Reagan loved each other deeply. “He had great regard for her, and she would do anything for him,” he said.

Kirkman served in the Secret Service 27 years. One of his other assignments was protecting presidential first daughter Jenna Bush during her college years.

Bopp told the crowd that the resurgence in interest in Republican ideals has been in response to President Obama’s “liberal agenda” as well as efforts of the conservative Tea Party movement.

“Isn’t this a great time to be a Republican?” Bopp said. “We have so many important things to do. We have come off two defeats in 2006 and 2008. We have spent too much, created too much debt, nominated the media’s favorite candidate for president and led a massive government bailout of Wall Street.”

The speaker, a Terre Haute, Indiana-native, serves as a Republican National Committee member from his home state and is RNC Midwestern Regional vice chairman.

The speaker said that continuing to follow Obama’s policies eventually would lead to the point where 85 percent of the government’s tax revenues would go to pay national debt. “And then all assets would be worthless,” he said.

Bopp said that to get the country back on a sound fiscal track, “We need a new era of accountability. Hold Obama accountable for his reckless changes. We must hold ourselves accountable to our commitment to our country so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said. “We should never again abandon our principles.”

The speaker said Republicans should take several steps to put the country on better footing, including ending government worker unions. “End collective bargaining and tax support for government worker unions. Right now, 7 percent of private workers are in unions and 37 percent of all government workers are in unions,” he said.

Bopp also suggested ending government support for National Public Radio and Public Television because he said they often maintain a liberal political slant. “Why should they get government funding?” he said.

Bopp said the issue is about Republicans choosing to work toward prosperity and freedom versus socialism and poverty.

“Capitulation is one thing we will not do. We have to show we’re doing the people’s work with cutting spending but I believe we can do it,” he said.

Bopp has represented a variety of conservative organizations, including Focus on the Family, Susan B. Anthony List, Traditional Values Coalition, Club for Growth and the Republican Governor’s Association.

Bopp’s successful campaign finance and election law litigation practice includes more than 75 campaign finance cases in more than 35 states and over a dozen challenges to federal campaign finance law, of which he has won more than 90 percent. Bopp is tasked with organizing a calendar of national debates for the upcoming 2012 Republican Presidential primary elections.

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