Photos from the Vault

These 8 presidents have visited San Luis Obispo County

Presidential candidate George W. Bush waves to the crowd as his train pulls into the San Luis Obispo train station in 2000.
Presidential candidate George W. Bush waves to the crowd as his train pulls into the San Luis Obispo train station in 2000. Telegram-Tribune

Once the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroad opened the coast route in 1900, U.S. presidents that had once bypassed San Luis Obispo started arriving in the county.

The unofficial count by Photos From the Vault stands at eight presidents who have visited the county, seven by rail, with perfect county attendance for Roosevelts. William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt got off the train and gave speeches here. So it must have been triply exciting to see the third president in a row, William Howard Taft. The news ran on the front page of the Daily Telegram. All two lines of it. He didn’t stop and it was 3 a.m.

Here is a reprise of coverage of candidate George W. Bush when he came to San Luis Obispo on Aug. 9, 2000.

Rally on the rails

By Mike Stover

George W. Bush looked out from the back of his antique train car Wednesday evening and smiled at the cheering crowd of 2,000 people lining the tracks as far as he could see. San Luis Obispo County has long had a soft spot for Republican candidates, and it hadn’t let him down.

“Bush! Bush! Bush!” the throng chanted as the Texas governor and his wife Laura waved in response.

It was pure political spectacle. A modern mix of scripted showmanship, manufactured emotion and spontaneous small-town excitement.

From the soundtrack of patriotic anthems and Frank Sinatra standards blaring from speakers, to the political aides prepping the crowd for the filming of a television commercial, to the crop-topped Secret Service stiffs talking into microphones on their watches, Campaign 2000 had rolled into town in a big way.

Local political activists said Bush chose to come to San Luis Obispo County in part because of its high percentage of independent voters, a group he is seeking to win over.

He started his two-day “Change the Tone” tour in Oxnard before stopping in Guadalupe and ending in San Luis Obispo. Bush was to spend the night in Santa Maria. This morning he will fly to Salinas. He will take the train from there to Lodi, and then Stockton, before driving to Sacramento.

Bush made it clear that he considers California, with its bounty of electoral votes, a do-or-die state. “We can win the great state of California. Should we do so, you’re looking at the next president.”

Assemblyman Abel Maldonado and Republican congressional candidate Mike Stoker had a tight grasp on Bush’s coattails.

Maldonado said he heard complaints that the convention was a “masquerade ball” where white party leaders used minority front men to appeal to blacks and Latinos. “See this face,” he told the crowd from the speaker’s platform on the back of the train. “This brown face is no mask. This is the new Republican Party.”

Blacks and Latinos had prominent roles throughout Wednesday’s rally.

Rene “Rick” Bravo, a San Luis Obispo pediatrician, served as the master of ceremonies and head cheerleader.

Before the train arrived, 10-year-old Daniel Rogers of Lompoc, who is black, was elevated to celebrity status when he was handed the microphone to read a letter he wrote to Bush. “I look forward to being able to have a president who acts like a gentlemen,” he said to the roar of the crowd.

The candidate’s speech mixed stump standards with an added agricultural oomph. He pumped up Dick Cheney as a great vice presidential choice, declared farmers to be “the cornerstone of national security,” and said he would work to abolish inheritance taxes.

He said a portion of the federal budget surplus should be returned to the working men and women of America and called for an increase in military spending. “Even though the evil empire may have passed, evil still remains,” Bush said.

He said he’d raise educational standards and “challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Fred Tarwater of San Luis Obispo, who said he is currently between jobs, said he appreciated Bush calling for an end to inheritance taxes. “This is one death penalty that should be abolished.”

Chasing the man who would be president

By Jeff Ballinger

The successful quest for an interview with the man who may become the country’s next president was an enlightening test of endurance. It started early Wednesday morning shortly after I boarded Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s train in Oxnard.

“Can I please get five minutes with Bush?”

“We’ll see what we can do,” a press aide replied.

As the train rolled north, the question was repeated. And repeated. Finally, I struck paydirt.

After a quick stop in Guadalupe where Bush ate a late afternoon snack of nachos and talked to local residents, I bumped into the woman I was told was the right person to talk to for the one-on-one. I explained how The Tribune is the hometown newspaper at Wednesday night’s train stop.

Five minutes later, photographer Jayson Mellom and I followed a fast-walking aide through the narrow aisles of half a dozen train cars. Our hike ended at the rear of the train, where Bush was relaxing. He shook our hands vigorously, and started answering questions.

We wound up with 10 minutes.

It was an exercise that journalists traveling with Bush face regularly.

On Wednesday’s train with three double-decker cars of press members, it was clear that some reporters had had enough.

Before Bush was finished shaking hands after his morning speech in Oxnard, a tired reporter was already complaining to her colleagues within earshot as she walked to one of the three cars devoted to the press.

“I hope this is the last whistle-stop tour I do, “ she said. Along with the rest of the media, the reporter spent the next hour filling East Coast newspapers. Then they were finished for the day. One reporter sighed audibly and asked, “Now what are we going to do for the next four hours?”

The answer turned out to include feasting on a buffet (which will be charged to the media companies, I understand), gambling in the dining car, and comments about the local scenery that ranged from disgust to awe.

Much later, a handful of people along the tracks south of Orcutt Road virtually ensure that the national media will not spread the word wholeheartedly about how lovely San Luis Obispo is. A trio of men dressed inexplicably in ornate armor elicited laughter from members of the press. It only got louder when a young woman gave the train the Mardi Gras salute by lifting up her T-shirt and baring her breasts.

Bush spells out Medicare reform

By Jeff Ballinger

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush pledges, if elected, to revitalize Medicare, which he called the “worst-run HMO in America.”

In a private interview with The Tribune, Bush also vowed to support a proposed offshore oil drilling moratorium, to increase school testing to gauge student performance, and to encourage more charter schools with federal loans.

While riding aboard the campaign train just north of Guadalupe Wednesday, he also described generally how his healthcare plan would help people like the local senior citizens who have recently lost coverage as HMOs have dropped their Medicare plans.

Sitting across from his wife, Laura, and next to Assemblyman Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, the Texas governor pledged to give seniors a variety of options “paid for by the government, covering hospitals, doctors and prescription drugs.”

Bush said the “old system” is no longer working.

“The answer is to bring the Democrats and Republicans together ... give seniors as many options as possible and fully pay for the poorest of seniors.”

On education, Bush trekked a fine line, saying he could lead a federal effort of reform while establishing more local control.

He listed six ways he would accomplish this, the first of which would be to “pass the power out of Washington.” Bush said he’d accomplish this by consolidating programs into broad categories, allowing local districts to choose how to spend their federal dollars.

He’d also establish more accountability for federal programs by mandating testing.

“If you take federal money, you must show how you’re doing, “ he said. “We’re not going to continue to fund failures.”

Bush supports establishing voucher programs so parents can choose to send their children to private schools and encouraging more charter schools, including making federal loans to build such new campuses. He said he’d also convert Head Start to an intensive reading and math program and push for more opportunities for teacher training.

On the environmental front, Bush said he does not want to see more offshore oil drilling on the Central Coast.

“I support the moratorium,” he said firmly, pointing out that it was his father who enacted it when he was president.

Bush also reiterated a pair of themes he included in his speeches in Oxnard and San Luis Obispo, about his support for ending the so-called death tax, which is an estate tax, as well as his commitment to promoting agriculture and exporting American agricultural products overseas.

“I supported China’s inclusion into the WTO (World Trade Organization) to open up trade for our farmers.”

Bush also shared his joy at meeting people on the streets of Guadalupe, just 15 minutes before the interview.

“It is so heartwarming, “ he said.

He shook hands with many people as he walked through the small, historically Democratic and largely Latino town, signing his name, posing for pictures and having impromptu conversations in English and Spanish.

Bush acknowledged his campaign has tried to reach out to people not typically associated with the Republican Party and said Maldonado was a good example of the new face of the GOP.

“We’re trying to break new ground.”

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For those of you keeping score, here are links to previous presidential stories:

William McKinley, 1901: Reception at Ramona Hotel

Teddy Roosevelt, 1903: Gave 15-minute speech in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles

William Howard Taft, 1911: 3 a.m pass-through via S.P. Railroad, no stop

Calvin Coolidge, 1930: retired president visits W.R. Hearst on rail vacation

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942: Secret war industry moral tour via rail, midnight no stop

Richard M. Nixon, 1962: Running for governor, spoke on courthouse steps and came through town by rail

Ronald Reagan, 1966: Many visits to the county as governor

George W. Bush, 2000: Addresses rally at SLO AMTRAK station