By Pat Jenkins
Roger Bush has learned a lot in 20 years in public office – 12 in the Legislature and the last eight as a Pierce County Councilman.
For instance, he’s convinced that the majority of elected officials want to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t always look that way to their constituents. And he believes the approach to governing that’s most successful is heavy on collaboration and light on divisiveness.
Bush, who is leaving office at the end of this month because of term limits on council members, is exiting at a time when the general political discourse is at odds with his style.
“We’re in a cycle of coarseness right now,” he noted. “But most people in office are there to accomplish things, make progress.”
Progress requires problem-solving, which Bush said he has tackled by taking projects and breaking them into sections, then working through each one to get the whole thing done.
His eyes light up when he’s talking about transportation improvements, like the widening and extension of Canyon Road and the upgrades of 176h Street, which he drives on every day to and from his home a few blocks to the south of it. He’s also excited about the county adding 1,400 acres of park land during his time on the council (It’s not all developed yet, “but we have the land locked up for the future”) and the fruition of Ashford County Park.
“Quality of life” projects involving recreation, public safety and transportation “have always been my priorities” in the Legislature and with the county, Bush said. Seeing them through has taken the ability to have good relationships with “both sides of the aisle,” as they say in Olympia about officials of different political persuasion.
“You don’t have to make a lot friends, but don’t make a lot of enemies.You may need their help,” Bush said. “To be successful in public office, know when to back off and when to hold strong. People respect that.”
Bush, a Republican, was elected to the council in 2004. His district includes Eatonville, Graham, Ashford, Elbe, Frederickson, Spanaway, Elk Plain, Lacamas and Roy. He represented many of the same communities in the Legislature, where he served four consecutive terms in the House of Representatives starting in 1996.
“I was really green when I ran the first time” for the House, he recalled. He didn’t win. Cheryl, his wife for 43 years, remembers him ringing the doorbells at 15,000 homes of voters in that first attempt at what eventually became a long career in elected politics.
“It’s been interesting,” she said. “We’ve met a lot of people and made some longtime friends through the Republican clubs. They’ve helped us stuff envelopes and with doorbelling.” That support was invaluable in campaigns, she added.
Roger and Cheryl were married in 1969 after meeting while they were students at Seattle Pacific University. Their Frederickson-area house, where they’ve lived since 1986, has a park-like backyard that has a small patch of corn in one corner during the growing season and a swingset where their only child, a daughter who lives in Bonney Lake, played and now two grandchildren play when they come to visit.
“Roger loves it,” Cheryl said of the mini oasis. “It’s a place to relax and get away from things.”
Bush earned teaching credentials at Seattle Pacific and later became a teacher in the Bethel School District. True to those roots, he said his “enjoyment of life is through exploring and learning. I like to find a solution to a problem, make it work. But I won’t violate my principles.”
Eatonville, the only incorporated town in Bush’s district, has benefitted from having Bush in office all these years, said Mayor Ray Harper.
“I like what Roger’s done. He looked out for Eatonville, both when he was in the Legislature and on the council,” Harper said. One example of that is when Bush helped arrange funding for public restrooms at the town’s Visitor Center, giving motorists on their way to Mount Rainier an additional reason to pull over in Eatonville and hopefully spend some time in the shops.
“Roger has done good service to the areas he represented,” Harper said.
It comes to an end soon. “I’ll be unemployed Jan. 1,” Bush said, referring to his departure from the council.
Exiting with him will be fellow council members Dick Muri and Tim Farrell, also term-limited. Bush noted that’s a quarter-century of combined experience that’s being drained. But he’s confident the council will be in good hands with their successors, including Jim McCune, who’s replacing him. McCune, a Republican who won the seat in last month’s election, has credited Bush for sharing his knowledge of county government.
“I’ve enjoyed my time,” Bush said.