Some observers, particularly in today’s political climate, might characterize Bob Dole as a moderate Republican. Bill Lacy would disagree. Lacy said Dole is a conservative.
That was the message that Lacy delivered Friday, April 19, at the monthly meeting of the Congressional Forum at the Jack Reardon Convention Center. Lacy, the director of the Dole Institute of Politics, was the featured speaker.
What set Dole apart from many of the conservatives in Washington of today was that he knew how to work with others, including liberal Democrats, to get things done, according to Lacy.
The Dole Institute, based at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, is known for its “bipartisan, philosophically balanced political programming” according to its website. Its lecture series has served as host for many internationally known political leaders. The associate director of the institute is Barbara Ballard, a Democrat who serves as a Kansas state representative from Lawrence.
Lacy, a Republican, has worked in seven presidential political campaigns including those for Dole in 1988 and 1996.
I recall first meeting Bob Dole in 1968 when he was a U.S. representative from western Kansas first running for the U.S. Senate to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Frank Carlson. There was a candidate reception at what is now Trinity Community Church. Dole won the primary and general elections in that race.
In the early 1960s, I first had heard the legend of Bob Dole, the bright young Republican political star who was on the move. He had been a county attorney and state legislator before serving in the U.S. House.
In his earlier days in Washington, he was known for his acerbic wit that often targeted liberal Democrats. I recall the story that my parents told me about Dole when he was running for vice president along with Gerald Ford. Both my folks were longtime Republicans and Dole supporters. In 1976, they voted early so they could fly to California to visit my sister.
My parents and my sister were at a social event election night; many of the people at the event were probably liberal Democrats; they were appalled at the hatchet job that Dole was doing on Jimmy Carter. Carter won.
Dole mellowed in his later years. But he was still very witty. I remember in the late 1980s when he visited the Wyandotte County Republican headquarters in a downtown storefront on Minnesota Avenue.
A couple of political science students from KU were among those waiting for Dole’s arrival on a weekday afternoon.
“What is going to happen?” one of the KU students asked me.
“I’ll tell you what will happen. Senator Dole will be about five to 10 minutes late. He will come in with probably about 10 persons—a typical entourage,” I said. “And when he comes in, everything will stop and Bob Dole will be the center of attention. “
Sure enough he was about 10 minutes late. He came in with a group of about 10 including local Republican leaders. Everyone listened to what Bob Dole said.
“Everyone wins when you run for office,” Dole said. “Even if you don’t win the race, you are a better person for running.”
He talked about the difference between campaigning in large states such as New York as opposed to North Dakota.
“In New York, you can buy 20 television spots for $250,000,” Dole said. “In North Dakota, you can buy the television station for that amount.”
Today, Dole works for a Washington law firm; he will be 90 years old on July 22.
Those in Washington and Topeka could learn from Bob Dole’s practical politics that yielded results.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.