- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2016


When a congressman or senator leaves Washington as Bill Armstrong did in 1990, it doesn’t take long for the political class to move on as if he or she never existed. When the late Phil Crane left Congress after losing his seat in 2004 as the then-longest-serving Republican in the House, his former fellow Illinois House member, friend and Cabinet member Ed Derwinski and I took him to lunch, where Ed told him that he might as well have his phone disconnected because “all those folks you thought were your friends are never going to call.”

There are more than a few former congressmen and senators hanging around Washington. Some are successful lobbyists, lawyers and senior statesmen and -women, but many are just, well, here because they don’t want to go home and cannot figure out what else they might do.

Others serve, leave and never look back. Former Colorado Sen. Bill Armstrong, who died July 5 at the age of 79, won a Senate seat in 1978 by beating an incumbent Democrat in a landslide after serving three terms in the House. He was a star; as both a congressman and senator, conservatives trusted his word, looked to him for leadership, and even dreamed that one day he might run for president. He was selected one year by the editors of Washingtonian magazine as “the gutsiest member of the Senate,” fought for meaningful tax reform and succeeded in getting tax indexing adopted for the first time, was a major sponsor of the Balanced Budget/Tax Limitation Amendment in the ‘80s, fought for missile defense and never surrendered on a matter of principle. He loved President Ronald Reagan but didn’t hesitate to oppose some of his spending proposals as just too costly.

In a sense, he was more an old-style conservative than some of the fire-breathing right- and left-wingers today who talk only to each other and find it difficult if not impossible to work with those with whom they disagree. Bill Armstrong worked across the aisle and was well liked by Democrats as well as Republicans. Maybe it was his religion or just the fact that he was, well, likeable, but he mastered the art of being able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Young politicians on both sides of the aisle might benefit from what Bill Armstrong told an interviewer about getting along with others back in 1983: ” It’s awfully easy to be brash, and feel like you’ve got all the answers. But as you gain more experience, you realize nobody has all the answers, and that fosters a degree of intellectual humility.”

When Bill Armstrong decided to leave the Senate rather than run for re-election in 1990, movement conservatives were heartbroken and moved on. Mr. Armstrong, however, knew just what he was doing. He’d rebuilt the Colorado Republican Party following the Watergate disaster in the ‘70s, and while he may have had enough of Washington, he fought as hard for the principles that brought him back to the Centennial State as he had in Congress.

He accepted the presidency of Colorado Christian University in 2006 and put the place on the map. It is today recognized as a “college of distinction” and has been ranked as one of the top 2 percent of colleges and universities in the country for the quality of its core curriculum. Bill was there to pass on the values in which he believed so strongly to future generations. Seven years ago, he launched the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, which brings thousands of western conservatives together each year as part of Bill’s effort to pass on those values.

I thought of how much Bill has accomplished since leaving Washington as I flew to Denver last week to speak at the summit. He wasn’t there himself as he was 79 years old and had been fighting cancer for five years. He had announced that he was soon to step down as head of the university, but those who were there honored him not so much for what he did while he was in Washington, but for what he’d since he came home.

Bill Armstrong died two days after the conference ended. As we move on, he will not be forgotten.

David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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