By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A number of Havre residents made the trip to Great Falls Thursday to hear President Bush speak about his proposed changes to the Social Security system. The event also drew a few protestors from the area.
Bush supporters came away impressed.
"I thought it was really good," Havre High School senior Stephanie Heil said. "It was awesome. I really think he did a great job."
Heil said she is concerned about Social Security. "I think it's something we need to deal with," she said. "I think (Bush) has a good plan and people need to listen to him."
Retirees Bob and Genevieve Kastan of Havre said they are concerned that the current system will not be around for their 12 - going on 13 - grandchildren.
"It's not going to be there for them," Bob Kastan said. "I'm glad he's making the effort. I liked his message. He's moving forward. I think we need to do something, I'm convinced about it. I think there has to be a debate about it."
"I like the fact that he explained his stance on Social Security," Genevieve Kastan said. "I think he has been misunderstood."
Bush's visit to Great Falls on Thursday was the second stop of a five-state trip to drum up support for his plan to change Social Security by creating personal accounts. The accounts would allow younger workers to investment part of their Social Security contribution in the stock or bond markets, a move Bush said would earn a greater rate of return than the Social Security system.
"It makes it more likely that young workers will end up with what the government has promised," Bush said. "The world has changed; the system hasn't changed with it."
Bush made it clear that if changes are made to the system, they will not affect those who are retired or preparing to retire.
Among those in the airport receiving line for Bush after he walked down the steps of Air Force One was Alvin Windy Boy Sr., former chairman of the Chippewa Cree tribal council.
White House staffers had called Windy Boy last Friday to ask him to be in the line. He said he was selected because of the advocacy work he has done representing his tribe and other Indian nations.
"It was an opportunity and certainly a privilege to be a part of his entourage," Windy Boy said. Windy Boy had met Bush once before. He attended a breakfast with the president and the first lady in September.
He agreed with Bush's message that there is a problem with Social Security but isn't sure how it should be fixed.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who attended Bush's speech, said Bush made everyone feel comfortable.
"I thought (his speech) was very entertaining," Rice said. "He added a little humor. He was laid back and comfortable and made everyone else feel that way. I was impressed with his demeanor. I enjoyed the fact that he would come to Montana. We're not a very large state and he took the time to come. That impressed me."
Rice said he is "on the fence" about Bush's proposal and wants to know more.
"I have mixed emotions about it," he said. "I'd have to have more details."
Eli Salapich, who works for Lotton Construction Inc., said he is concerned about whether Social Security will be there when he retires. He's 43 now, and considers himself an independent conservative.
"I'm concerned about it, and I'm open to listening to options," he said.
Salapich and his 11-year-old son, who made the trip with him, were impressed at all of the work that goes into a presidential visit.
"It was impressive, to see all of the security that goes into it," he said. "It's quite a show."
Ken Hanson, who also works at Lotton Construction, was also impressed.
"When you're 30 feet away from the most powerful man in the world, it's a good feeling," Hanson said. "I wanted to hear his message in person, and there's historical value in going to see the president in Montana. It was an exciting time, a memorable moment in my life."
Hugh Gwynn sat further away than Hanson, but still enjoyed the show, he said. He agrees with Bush's proposed reforms.
"Philosophically, we're on the same page," he said. "Anytime anyone can be in control of their own destiny, I'm all for it."
Mert and Vicki Freyholtz of Gildford were with a group of protestors who gained permission from a Great Falls homeowner to set up camp in a yard across the street from where the president was holding a meeting before his speech at the Four Seasons Arena.
Just before Bush arrived, four large dump trucks pulled up and parked in front of the group, blocking the view, Mert Freyholtz said. Police also used metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs to investigate the protestors.
"It was really an experience, I can't believe they did that to us," he said.
He said he disagrees with Bush's plan to change Social Security. "It's nothing but another lie," he said. "He lied about the war. He's lying about this too."
Brad Lotton, chairman of the Hill County Republican Party, had a decidedly different view about the president's message.
"It was great, it was an awesome experience," Lotton said today. "I think he was right on target. I've been complaining about Social Security for years."