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Remembering Former Sen. Bill Armstrong: The Conservative Leader With A Big Heart

Remembering Former Sen. Bill Armstrong: The Conservative Leader With A Big Heart
Vice President Dan Quayle meets with Republican senators at Capitol Hill Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1989. From left are Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.; Bill Armstrong, R-Colo.; Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.; Quayle; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Bob Dole, R-Kan. (AP)  

By    |   Wednesday, 06 July 2016 05:31 PM

When the news arrived Wednesday afternoon that Bill Armstrong died after a five-year bout with cancer, people who knew the former two-term Republican senator from Colorado primarily remembered him as one of the good-as-Goldwater conservative "movers and shakers" of the 1970s and '80s.

Like colleagues and friends such as fellow Republican Sens. Jesse Helms (N.C.), Gordon Humphrey (N.H.), and Malcolm Wallop (Wyo.), Armstrong (who was 79 at the time of his death) advanced key items on the conservative agenda such as cutting taxes across-the-board, a streamlined missile defense system, and a hard line against the Soviet Union.

"Bill Armstrong was one of a handful of dedicated conservatives who helped pave the way for Ronald Reagan and his vision for America in the 1980s," recalled Tom Winter, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union and former co-owner of the conservative weekly "Human Events," who knew the Coloradan since his days in the U.S. House from 1972-78.

But Armstrong was unique among high profile conservative politicians in that despite his hard-core economic conservatism and anti-Communist stance, despite his firm commitment to the right-to-life, he was rarely — if ever — attacked by Democratic opponents or anyone on the left.

His gentle manners, booming laugh, and steadfast refusal to say a harsh word about anyone transcended any controversy his philosophical views would otherwise engender.

As veteran GOP political consultant Matt Keelen put it, "Bill Armstrong was a compassionate conservative before it was cool."

A former radio announcer who attended Tulane University (La.) and the University of Minnesota without receiving a degree, Armstrong moved to Colorado in the early 1960s and eventually bought a string of radio stations.

Elected to the state House of Representatives in 1962 and the state senate in '64, the young Armstrong proved a solid conservative who often clashed with moderate GOP Gov. John Love.

In 1970, he experienced his first and only defeat by losing the Republican primary for lieutenant governor to fellow state legislator John Vanderhoof (who would become governor three years later when Love resigned to become President Nixon's energy advisor).

(Following his loss, Armstrong recalled to me years later, "I made good on a promise to [wife] Ellen and my children that I would try to quit my three-pack-a-day smoking habit. I did." This he told me at a time I decided to quit a similar heavy smoking habit. And, Armstrong said, "I will pray for you." I did quit).

With the creation of a new U.S. House district, however, Armstrong roared back in 1972 and went to Washington. In 1978, he took on Democratic Sen. Floyd Haskell. Armstrong ads showed Haskell shaking hands with fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter, by then an unpopular president, and carried the slogan: "They had their turn. Now it's ours."

Armstrong won in a landslide.

"His election in 1978 is what really revived the Colorado Republican Party after it was emasculated in the Watergate election of 1974," former State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams told Newsmax soon after Armstrong's death, "You can trace the elections of [GOP Sens.] Hank Brown, Wayne Allard and Cory Gardiner and [GOP Gov.] Bill Owens to him. He built a Colorado Republican Party that lasted nearly 30 years."

True to his fierce commitment to term limits, Armstrong stepped down in 1990. He owned and operated more than a dozen private companies and was a director of six public companies. In 2006, he became president of Colorado Christian University, which would go on to be ranked in the top 2 per cent of colleges nationally for its core curriculum by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Colorado businesswoman Anna Maria Larsen spoke for many who knew Armstrong when she told Newsmax: "I have no particular story, just the memory of a man of deep character, goodness, conviction and steadfastness. He and Ellen were an example of how a marriage could be lived. He was always optimistic in the goodness of his country. You know what I mean, as well as do many others who may have had the privilege of knowing him."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.





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When the news arrived Wednesday afternoon that Bill Armstrong died after a five-year bout with cancer, people who knew the former two-term Republican senator from Colorado primarily remembered him as one of the good-as-Goldwater conservative "movers and shakers" of the 1970s and '80s.
bill armstrong, colorado, senator, obituary
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2016-31-06
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 05:31 PM
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