Former President George W. Bush spoke to several thousand people in Raleigh on Wednesday, at a fundraiser that brought in more than $2 million for the local Scouting council.
In addition to a number of uniformed Scouts in attendance, the audience was dominated by prominent Triangle business leaders, lawyers and Republican politicians. A who’s who of North Carolina conservative political circles attended the event to hear Bush, a Republican who was president from 2001 to 2009.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker was there, as were many state-level politicians and judges. Numerous prominent GOP donors were also among the event’s main sponsors and organizers, including groups run by businessmen Art Pope and Bob Luddy.
The News & Observer is unable to report on the details of Bush’s talk, since organizers banned cameras, audio recording and note-taking while he spoke.
In general, however, Bush told stories of his time as president and subsequent retirement, as well as reacting to recent events in the news. He talked about offering encouragement to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a recent call and expressed confidence in King Charles III, England’s new leader following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Bush said the queen had an underrated sense of humor in addition to her qualities as a stabilizing force for the United States’ biggest ally.
The former president spoke for around an hour, seated on a raised stage at center court of Raleigh’s PNC Arena. He was interviewed by Durham businessman Bob Ingram, a former pharmaceutical executive for Merck, GSK and other companies. Bush opened the event thanking Ingram for helping lay the groundwork for coronavirus vaccines.
While much of his speech was focused on politics, a relaxed-looking Bush also had the audience laughing on several occasions, with jokes about everything from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ego to his own retirement hobbies of painting and writing.
Award for Sloan
Bush, however, wasn’t the top headliner Wednesday. That honor went to O. Temple Sloan, who received the 2022 Good Scout award.
“What better training could I have had, than learning to live my life by the Scout Law and the Scout Oath?” Sloan said in his acceptance speech.
Several of the business and political leaders in attendance recorded short video tributes to Sloan, who is one of Raleigh’s biggest real estate developers after becoming a billionaire in the auto parts business.
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, a fellow Eagle Scout, called Sloan a dear friend. Former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl credited him with acting “always like a good Boy Scout, honest, straightforward, doing his duty.”
Rick Hendrick, who owns Hendrick Motorsports, spoke about Sloan reaching out to help after he was diagnosed with cancer. Golden Corral founder James Maynard praised his work ethic.
“Temple is truly a renaissance man,” Maynard said. “He gets it done. He can get more done in a day than most do in a week.”
In his speech, Sloan said he was worried by many things in modern life, from subpar schools to an epidemic of drug abuse.
“We have created a crisis for our youth and our country,” he said. “Never has the need for Scouting been greater. Scouting is a great model available to our young people to provide a door to leadership and citizenship for their future.”
Over the years Sloan has given millions of dollars to local charities and causes, and he has been a particularly large supporter of the Boy Scouts — an organization he said Wednesday he’s proud to have been part of for most of its existence. A native of Sanford, Sloan became an Eagle Scout as a member of the Occoneechee Council.
Wednesday’s fundraiser was for that same council, which covers much of central North Carolina including the Triangle and Fayetteville. Organizers said it raised $2.2 million to support troops in this area.
Keith Burns, the managing partner of law firm Nexsen Pruet’s Raleigh branch and a longtime Scouting supporter, told the crowd Wednesday that last year, the council’s 8,000 youth contributed 3 million hours worth of community service in the area.
While Bush never directly mentioned his successors Barack Obama, Donald Trump or Joe Biden by name, he did talk about politics in general and political issues. He condemned the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress and raised broader concerns of a rise in conspiracy theorists and extremists, both at home and abroad.
Outside the arena, about a dozen protesters affiliated with the group NC Stop Torture Now held signs with messages like “Arrest Bush.” When Bush was president, North Carolina was a key cog in the CIA’s torture program. Many rendition flights operated out of Smithfield, and a small airstrip about halfway between Raleigh and Fort Bragg. Using those flights, which appeared to be run by a private company, government operatives would bring suspected terrorists to be tortured at CIA black sites or in the prisons of foreign governments.
“Many of these prisoners have been suspected members of al-Qaeda, but at least one was a case of mistaken identity,” The N&O reported in 2007, two years after the New York Times first revealed the existence of the flights.
Bush didn’t address that part of his presidency, although he didn’t entirely shy away from issues of war. He said the toughest decisions he made were to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq, knowing it would mean the deaths of American troops, even if it was for what he saw as a just cause.
For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.
Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, particularly the state legislature. In 2016 he started PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local issues in several cities and towns. Contact him at [email protected] or (919) 836-2858.