Sen. Bob Dole says thanks to Kansans
Longtime U.S. Senator Bob Dole stopped in at Common Ground Coffee Company in Fort Scott Wednesday during what is being billed as perhaps his last state-wide tour.
"I don't really have an agenda," Dole said. "I just want to say thank you to the people that have supported me over the years and gave me the opportunity to have the experience I had in Congress."
His political career spans eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 28.5 in the Senate, when he served as Republican leader.
"I have been the majority and the minority leader and it's better in to be the majority because you get to set the agenda and you get to name the committee chairmen," Dole said.
He said a poll has shown that 39 percent of the people in Kansas don't believe it makes a difference.
"Believe me, it makes a difference," Dole said. "Because if you're in charge, you can bar anything or you can get things passed and right now the House has passed 350 bills that have just died in the Senate."
He said dealing with Social Security in the late 70s was his most important achievement while serving in the Congress.
"We were told if we didn't do something, the trust fund wouldn't have enough money to pay American seniors their full Social Security check," Dole said. "As you know, in some cases, and probably some in this county, that's the only income that people have."
A commission comprised of six Republicans and six Democrats was appointed, with Alan Greenspan as the chairman.
"We just couldn't get it together," Dole said. "It wasn't politics, it wasn't Democrats couldn't agree with Republicans or anything like that, we just couldn't put it together."
The committee adjourned for Christmas in 1982 and came back in January.
"I remember on Jan. 3, I was on the Senate floor and Daniel Patrick Monyihan, a Democrat from New York who was also on the commission, we sort of walked toward each other and said at almost the same time 'We've gotta fix this. There's 30 million Americans wanting us to do something,'" Dole said. "So we made a few changes, we took it to the commission, they made a few changes, and bottom line is it passed and Social Security has been intact since 1983 and it's going to be good at least until 2027, maybe a little longer, maybe a little less, but somewhere in that period and then it will have to be fixed again."
He said seniors won't be affected, but some of the younger people may have to wait another year to start drawing their benefits.
He said his biggest disappointment was not passing a balanced budget for the federal government.
"And we now have an 18-trillion-dollar debt," Dole said. "
He said in the 1980s, there were 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats and he was the leader.
"So I thought this was a good time to bring up the balanced budget amendment so we could make the government live within its means instead of just printing more money, or borrowing more money from China, so we could maybe balance the budget," Dole said.
He said three days before the vote, one of his friends, Sen. Mark Hatfield from Oregon, called him.
"He said, 'Bob, I can't vote with you on this bill.' I said, 'Well you voted with it last year,' and he said, 'Well, I've changed my mind,'" Dole said.
Dole said his called his wife, Elizabeth Dole, and she called Hatfield.
"And they prayed together over the phone that he would make the right decision," Dole said. "But that was one time prayer wasn't answered. He voted with the other side and we lost on a 50-50 tie. And I think about that in the past two years. We wouldn't be in the economic mess we're in now if we'd just made the government stop spending a lot of money that's not necessary and doesn't really help anybody. That was really my biggest disappointment in all the time I was there."
He said he also learned the big things are important, but it's the little things, too, "like keeping track of your constituents and coming home to let them know who you are," and assisting constituents when they have a problem with their Veterans or Social Security benefits.
"I think that's the most important thing I tried to do the whole time I was there," Dole said.
Luke Cosens asked Dole who his best friends were on both sides of the aisle and how do politicians foster relationships like that again so Congress can end the gridlock in Congress.
Dole spoke of how difficult it is to get bills passed through Congress and said one person or party should not stop the progression.
"I never tried to do that when I was majority leader," Dole said. "I thought we were suppose to get things done. Sometimes you reach across the aisle. You have friends in both parties and if you're a couple of votes short, maybe you could trade a couple to the other side. But the only way to do it is to get acquainted with people, like we do in Kansas. We know each other, we help each other, and we have an independent streak in Kansas."
He said President Barack Obama called when he learned Dole was going to take his tour through Kansas. Dole said he explained he wanted to make the trip while he was in good health.
"He thought that was a pretty good idea," Dole said. "We get along fine. I help the White House sometimes when it's not a partisan thing."
Currently, Dole said he is helping create a disability treaty to protect disabled Americans, including veternas who travel overseas and not be discriminated against.
"It's not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, it's just something we need to do," Dole said. "I think we're going to get it done. We're a couple of votes short."
When asked what changes he's seen in Congress over the years, Dole said when he began there were conservative Democrats who worked with Republicans. Now, he said, there aren't any conservative Democrats remaining.
"I think over the years there's been more confrontation and less bi-partisanship," Dole said.
Once President Ronald Reagan called Dole and said there was a bill he wanted passed with 100 percent of the votes and Dole said he told Reagan they would try.
"He said, with a little twinkle in his eyes, 'Bob, if you can't get me 100, get me 70 percent and I'll get the rest next year,'" Dole said. "So he understood you don't always get all you want. It's true in our private lives. We don't always get everything we want. I've never met a person who said they've never had a problem...I think that's been the change. It's become a little less partisan over the years. Sometimes you've got to give a little to get a lot."
He called Reagan a "pretty good teacher."
He said when he first ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1961, Keith Sebelius of Norton, Phillip Doyle from Beloit, were also on the ballot.
"We were all pretty well known in our own counties, but nobody knew the difference between Dole and Doyle," Dole said. "I had to figure out some way, if I was going to win, to let them know he was Doyle and I was Bob Dole. So we served Dole pineapple juice all across the state. We had a group of outstanding ladies who were called Dolls for Dole. I think if I did that today, I'd be arrested for harassment, but they were very helpful."
He said he won the election by 984 votes.
"It was really exciting," Dole said. "We had bobolinks and covered wagons. It was a lot of fun. I learned later in the campaign that some of my campaigners were having a lot of fun. They were putting vodka in their pineapple juice."
When asked if he would have done anything differently in his political career, Dole said he probably made mistakes, but he couldn't think of anything significant.
He tried to keep in touch with his constituents and came home often. He said 98 percent of the bills passed during his tenure and most were bi-partisan.
"I guess I'm trying to think of what I'd change," Dole said. "Jiminy, I guess you all know what I should have changed."
He credited Elizabeth Dole, who helped him a lot. She was secretary of transportation, secretary of labor and later president of the American Red Cross. Elizabeth Dole currently is working on a program to help people provide care for seriously wounded veterans. As a volunteer, Elizabeth Dole is working with 400 pastors, many organizations and caregivers all across the country and is also with First Lady Michelle Obama, he said.
He was asked to comment on the people of Southeast Kansas.
"We're a traditional Republican conservative state," Dole said. "We're not far right, we're conservative. We have basic values that we learned from our parents or teachers or somewhere along the line that people taught us right from wrong. That's what we need to teach our young people today. Many don't think politics makes any difference and you've got all this drug culture and you've got Colorado, where you can buy pot. Of course out in northwest Kansas, the border's not far away. I'm certain some young people have found their way to Colorado, but I think I was just lucky to be born in Kansas growing up in a small town, getting help from people many of whom have passed away.
He said he has always done well in Southeast Kansas.
"I worked hard, but I had a lot of people working with me or for me and that made the difference," Dole said. "The most important endorsement you can have in politics is on election day by the people.
"Although there was a little thing in 1996," Dole said. "There was an election that year. I can't remember who was running. That's one thing I would change. People say what would you do differently, I say, 'Well, I would win.'"
He lost the presidential election to Bill Clinton, who he said he gets along with well.
Dole thanked the veterans who were in the audience.
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins was traveling with Dole and attended the coffee.
"I'm just proud to be here with our favorite son," Jenkins said when she had earlier been introduced. "He's hard to keep up with up. He sometimes gets ahead of us. He's really working harder than any politician I know in the nation today, and he's not even on the ballot."
"I may be a write-in," Dole joked.
While in Fort Scott, Jenkins toured the LaRoche Baseball Complex under construction at the Industrial Park. (See story on Page 1.)
Dole also complimented LaRoche, who was not able to attend the gathering, for his "great season" with the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.