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Jim Peaco, NPS 

A grizzly bear walks north of the road near Sedge Bay on the shore of Yellowstone Lake in this undated photo. Montana officials have moved ahead on plans to keep managing grizzlies at the state level as federal efforts to delist the bears have stalled.

Nation bids goodbye to George H.W. Bush

WASHINGTON — The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as "the brightest of a thousand points of light."

After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush's casket left for a final service in Houston and burial today at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.

His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon. As a motorcade subsequently carried Bush's remains to the family church, St. Martin's Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot cell phone video. One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.

Upon its arrival at the church, Bush's casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush's public life and character.

"He was a man of such great humility," said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel "the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.," he added pointedly, "are not bothered by heavy traffic."

Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.

George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."

The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.

The elder Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman," historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, "our shield" in dangerous times.

But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, "Never know. Gotta ask."

The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush's life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush's friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. "You would have wanted him on your side," he said.

Meacham praised Bush's call to volunteerism, placing his "1,000 points of light" alongside Abraham Lincoln's call to honor "the better angels of our nature" in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines "companion verses in America's national hymn."

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life."

Bush's death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.

Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president's service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.

Bush is set to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before boarding a special funeral train to be carried to his burial today.

Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.

Gov. Matt Mead supports examining Wyoming's sales tax system

Casper’s leaders are hoping the state legislature will revise Wyoming’s sales tax collection and distribution system — and Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday that he agrees the current system should be examined.

“I do think it’s worth looking at,” he said in an interview Wednesday in the Star-Tribune newsroom.

The city mistakenly received an additional $1.7 million in sales tax distributions after a Sweetwater County vendor incorrectly reported its taxes in Natrona County. The error occurred from October 2013 to December 2015 and was later detected during a routine audit.

After the state learned about the mistake, it deducted the money from Casper’s monthly sales tax distribution in July. Casper officials then took a loan from the state that gave the city up to five years to pay back the money.

“This is not the first time it’s happened…” said Mead, adding that he received a frantic call years ago from Sheridan’s then-mayor regarding an over-payment issue. “If there was a way to modify (the system) to provide a triple-check or a double-check, that would be worthwhile.”

The Department of Revenue currently has a self-reporting system that relies on vendors to correctly report tax information. There are no fines or other penalties for businesses that file in the wrong county, Kim Lovett, the administrator of the Department of Revenue’s Excise Tax Division, said in July.

At the Casper City Council’s work session last week, some council members said there need to be consequences for vendors who file in the wrong county to encourage businesses to be vigilant with their taxes.

But the governor said he would be hesitant to punish businesses for making an innocent error.

“They are trying to do the right thing, and they have a made a mistake, so I think a system that provides clarity to them and the state may be the best way to do it,” said Mead, who in January will hand over the office to Gov.-elect Mark Gordon. “Those mistakes, they are not made out of any bad intent because they are paying their bills.”

Following the mix-up this summer, two other state lawmakers told the Star-Tribune that they also believe the sales tax system should be reviewed.

“We don’t want this to happen to any other county or municipality,” said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.

The senator said he wanted to explore whether the system could be altered so that any county that experiences a significant change in sales tax figures year to year would automatically undergo an audit.

Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, said taxpayers who overpay the state only have a limited amount of time to notice the error and request a refund. The representative said lawmakers should consider holding the state to similar standards.

While speaking to the Casper City Council in September, Department of Revenue Director Dan Noble said some mistakes are likely unavoidable.

“I’ve got 32,000 vendors that I have to deal with on a monthly basis,” he said.

Noble said any changes regarding how the department operates would need to come from state lawmakers. Department of Revenue officials are not permitted to lobby for a position, he said.

City Manager Carter Napier previously said he was shocked to learn about the massive mix-up.

“It was very discouraging given all the work that we’ve done to keep ourselves self-sustaining ... It’s something that we didn’t anticipate and there’s nothing that we did that caused this problem,” he said.

Casper wasn’t the only entity in Natrona County affected by the error. The Natrona County government collected an additional $366,000. Mills ($108,000), Midwest ($13,000), Bar Nunn ($69,000), Evansville ($80,000) and Edgerton ($6,000) also received more than they were due.

Former Wyoming Sen. Al Simpson eulogizes George Bush at national funeral

In a eulogy to the nation’s 41st president last week, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson remembered that while George H.W. Bush loved a good joke, his biggest flaw was that he “could never remember a punchline.”

Fortunately, Simpson — for much of his time in government, as well as in the National Cathedral on Wednesday — had a few of his own up his sleeve, delivering them in a heartfelt remembrance of one of America’s more quietly consequential leaders of the 20th century.

Photos: Former Sen. Al Simpson of Wyoming eulogizes President Bush

Simpson’s eulogy tracked the course of a friendship that lasted more than half their lives, from their chance meeting in a congressional office building in 1962 to their time in government. Running roughly 11 minutes, Simpson’s speech was peppered with moments of brevity and gravity, rich in fondly recollected anecdotes and rare insights into the personality of a man few Americans knew once the notepads and television cameras were tucked away.

He remembered both the mischievous times and the candid carousing back to the White House while singing the theme to “Evita” and other Andrew Lloyd Weber classics — something that inspired Bush to break into song at a presser that, Simpson joked, may have made them think he was “losing his marbles.”

Simpson shared the story not just of the difficult times in Bush’s tenure (including the decisions that led to Bush becoming a one-term president), but of the tumultuous times in his own career, going from the toast of Washington to the “Z” list in short order, only to be awakened early one morning by a ringing phone with Bush’s voice — and blaring country music twanging in the background — on the other end of the line.

Photos from President George H.W. Bush's visits to Wyoming

“And he said, ‘Aha! I see the media is shooting you pretty full of holes!’” Simpson recalled the president saying, before Bush invited the troubled senator for a fishing trip to Camp David. “At the time, his approval rating was 93 percent. Mine was more like .93 percent.”

“And so we went, media of course, all gathered as we headed toward Marine One,” he continued. “And George said, ‘Why don’t you wave to your pals in the media, Al?’”

“And they didn’t wave back,” he deadpanned.

Marcy Nighswander, AP 

U.S. President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, share a laugh with Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., on June 14, 1992 in Washington prior to the start of "A Festival at Ford's," the annual gala benefit by the theater. 

As it turned out, Simpson said, Bush was told by staff members not to associate with Simpson, who was undergoing widespread criticism in the press at the time. More important to Bush, however, was friendship and loyalty.

“In the theme of George Bush’s life — during all the highs and lows — there was a simple credo: what would we do without family and friends?” said Simpson.

“So the punchline for George Bush is this,” Simpson said. “You would have wanted him on your side. He never lost his sense of humor. Humor is a universal solvent against the abrasiveness of life. He never hated anyone — he knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in. The most decent honorable person I’ve ever met was my friend George Bush. His epitaph? Probably just a single letter: the letter ‘L,’ for loyalty. It coursed through his blood.”

You can watch the whole eulogy here.