The Riggs Report: Remembering Reagan

Gov. Jerry Brown designates Feb. 6 as tribute day to former CA governor

Ronald Reagan, the only California governor to be elected president, would have turned 107 years old this week. In tribute, fellow Gov. Jerry Brown, who succeeded Reagan in 1974, issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 6 as Ronald Reagan Day.

“Above all, we remember the man—his irresistible optimism, faith and good humor,” Brown said in a statement released by his office Wednesday. “As a way to honor his memory, I recommend that Californians give as generously as they can to the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute, an initiative of the Alzheimer’s Association.”

Reagan died in 2004 at his home in the Southern California community of Bel-Air after complications from Alzheimer’s.

As contentious as his presidency was at times, marked with the Iran-Contra scandal, the savings and loan crisis and other political dust-ups, time has softened the historical view of Reagan’s two terms in the White House.

Reagan is widely remembered for his faceoff with Soviet leaders and for the era marked by the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the old Soviet Union.

Reagan is also remembered, even by some of his political foes, for his personal graciousness, his ability to forge agreements across party lines and his use of humor to smooth conflict.

It’s certain he would not recognize the Washington of today, where Congress is polarized and often paralyzed by bitter partisanship; where the current president speaks fondly of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and uses Twitter to attack his enemies.

Covering the Reagan Administration during the president’s frequent visits to his Santa Barbara-area ranch, I had an occasion to chat with Reagan during political fundraisers and at barbecues hosted by the White House for national and local reporters.

The press gatherings—hard to imagine in today’s climate—were carefully choreographed by the White House. They were held in places such as Flag is Up Farms, a race horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, or actor/developer Fess Parker’s large estate in the Hope Ranch area of Santa Barbara.

The president had arranged for the installation of a helicopter pad at his 688-acre vacation getaway, Rancho del Cielo, located about 30 miles northwest of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Mountain range.

Reagan’s arrival at press events would be punctuated by the heavy beating of rotor blades that stopped conversation, as Marine One hovered and descended.

Fifteen minutes later, he and the first lady would appear, flanked by Secret Service agents. A White House photographer was also on hand to document the meet-and-greet.

In person, as others have noted, Reagan was genial, approachable and likeable, a born storyteller with a talent for connecting with people, honed by his show business years in Hollywood.

I was reminded of those talents years later when, on assignment for KCRA, I covered Reagan’s funeral in Washington, D.C. Photographer Marcelino Navarro and I watched as long lines of mourners gathered on the National Mall, waiting for hours to pay their respects at the Capitol Rotunda.

Ronald Reagan’s sense of decency won him tributes, even from many political rivals. It’s a good lesson to remember amid the chilly, chaotic and destructive political landscape of Washington D.C., in 2018.