Bob Dole of Kansas

April, 2014

Washington -- Former senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole is touring all 105 counties in his home state of Kansas, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Which recalls for me two Bob Dole stories, one about the good Bob Dole and one about the other side of his character. Such are many stories about the man; he was a talented legislator, but he also had a sharp wit and a tongue to match, which put many people off.

For me, the good Bob Dole is what others may think is the bad one. And vice versa.

One year in the early 1980s the Senate was working on the federal budget late into the night; I was staffing on the Senate floor. Senators had returned to their desks from dinner and drinks. Tempers were short and inhibitions loosened. Up came a question of the budget for veterans; a senator made a speech for the folks back home about how the federal government must not cut any veterans' programs, given what veterans had risked and sacrificed for their country.

Bob Dole took the floor. Serving in the army, he had nearly died in Italy in WWII and was still visably disabled. What would he say? He shocked the Senate by saying he was tired of "professional veterans" who were more interested in protecting their benefits than in getting the nation's budget in order. He had made sacrifices before and he was prepared to make them again. I was never prouder of being a veteran (with a small disability benefit) myself, as that reflected my own view. I resented veterans' organizations claiming to represent me in these matters.

The next morning, I looked in the Congressional Record for the Dole remarks I had witnessed the night before. To me, they were worthy of framing. But they were not there. It is not unusual for the record to be expunged of what actually happens on the Senate floor.

The second Bob Dole story is not so heroic. When I worked for Senator Jim Exon, Democrat of Nebraska, I approached him about putting in a bill to allow states to "trade in" some of their federal categorical grants for less restrictive federal revenue sharing. Jim Exon had often been frustrated as a governor by several federal programs that were well-intentioned but ineffective as administered. He thought he could have run the programs better from the state level if he had had the funds. He liked the idea of states being able to swap among federal approaches, within limits, and told me to work up a bill.

I went to the Senate Legislative Counsel's office; we drafted the language in proper bill form. Jim Exon then sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to several other senators, inviting them to co-sponsor. When Bob Dole got wind of it, however, he liked the idea so much that he wanted his own name on it, not Exon's. He persuaded Leg Counsel to draft a bill lifting language word-for-word from the Exon draft. Staff in the Democratic cloakroom were on to the scheme and called me, advising me to get Senator Exon to the floor immediately to introduce his bill before Senator Dole could beat him to it. Fortunately, he was already on his way there; the bill as introduced thus bore Senator Exon's name and, being sponsored by a former Democratic governor, went on to get bi-partisan support, something that likely never would have happened under a Dole bill that would have been viewed by Democrats as an attempt to kill federal categorical programs. (Eventually the language was amended into another bill as a pilot program, but when federal revenue sharing itself was terminated, the concept died.)

Jim Exon worked well with the other Kansas Republican senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum. They were good friends. But he was never close to Bob Dole.