Bush Says He Might Rehire Controllers Reagan Fired

Times Staff Writer

Vice President George Bush said Tuesday that he would consider rehiring the air traffic controllers whom President Reagan fired in 1981--if their return would not damage the morale of current controllers.

“If there was no objection from those who had stayed on the job, I’d be willing to rethink the position,” Bush said.

It was the only time Bush deviated from unswerving loyalty to Reagan during a day of campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. Reagan has said he would not rehire the fired controllers at their old positions.


Bush, who made the statement during a question-and-answer session with Rotary members at the Manchester Country Club, quickly noted that he supported Reagan’s firing of the controllers after they went on strike. Bush’s assistant press secretary, Steve Hart, told reporters later that the vice president did not mean to imply criticism of Reagan’s decision to fire the controllers.

Eight Appearances Made

Bush invoked his loyalty to Reagan at eight New Hampshire appearances Tuesday, along with the no-taxes, pro-education message that has dominated his campaign so far. It was his most extensive visit to this politically important state in months, and unlike previous swings it put him in close contact with potential voters.

The vice president surprised crowds of shoppers at a mall in nearby Bedford, where 11-year-old Layne Fairbairn declared him “rad"--a pre-teen compliment--and a dozen equally star-struck adults bought copies of his new autobiography for Bush to sign.

He shook hands and posed for pictures at a pair of Manchester homes. He answered friendly questions posed by groups of realtors and insurance company employees, and sipped beer with some West Manchester voters.

Bush voiced support for the line-item veto that would allow a President to delete specific allocations but he made no mention of his spending priorities.

‘Let’s Be Realistic’

“My view is, hold the line on taxes, take your case to the American people on spending constraints,” he said. “Let’s be realistic about how our spending goes.”

Bush also touted his idea of instituting tax-free savings accounts for parents of college-bound children. The accounts would allow parents to collect $25 or more every month toward a child’s eventual tuition.

He said he favored drilling near an Alaska wildlife preserve as a way of increasing domestic oil supplies and decreasing dependence on foreign oil.

Bush made light of concerns of environmentalists that drilling would spoil the refuge. He said similar concerns had been raised before construction of the Alaska oil pipeline, which environmentalists feared would hurt the caribou population.

“Caribou like the pipeline,” he said. “They lean up against it, have a lot of babies, scratch on it. There’s more damn caribou than you can shake a stick at.”

Polls show Bush capturing between 40% and 50% of the vote here, contrasted with 22% to 27% for Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. Bush told guests at a Manchester home that he would “out-hustle” his competition.

“I’m 63 but I just (ran) two miles at the Bedford High School track and I feel like a spring chicken,” he said.

Actually, it was the West High School track but the audience laughed delightedly anyway.