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Bob Dole: Farm State Statesman

Bob Dole: Farm State Statesman

By Jim Patterson, AZ alumnus

Author: Whitney Wilgus/Wednesday, February 28, 2018/Categories: Featured Alumni

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By Jim Patterson, AZ alumnus

In January, former Kansas U.S. Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate and the longest serving GOP Senate leader, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for service as a “soldier, legislator and statesman.”

"Bob Dole always stood for what was just and what was right," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said. "Because of you, America is much better." President Donald Trump called Kansan Dole, a decorated World War II veteran, “a true American hero.”

Dole, ran as vice president on the 1976 GOP ticket with President Gerald R. Ford.  As an undergraduate and before being initiated into Alpha Zeta, I worked for Ford-Dole at the GOP convention in Kansas City. Ford’s selection of Dole as his running mate was controversial as he replaced the popular sitting Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

Columnist Carl Rowan noted politically conservative Dole had worked effectively with liberal Democrat U.S. Senator George McGovern, South Dakota, to pass food stamp legislation. 

Rowan commented Dole could add some “heart” into the Ford campaign. Ford/Dole ’76 lost to Democrats Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia governor and farmer, and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. Dole continued to represent his native Kansas in the U.S. Senate until 1996.

As an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington DC, I attended many meetings and Senate Hearings with Dole as a leader on the Senate Agriculture Committee. I witnessed firsthand his passion for Kansas and global agriculture. He worked for policies that made the U.S. a reliable and economic supplier of wheat, including, of course, nutritious and famous Kansas Hard Red Winter wheat, and farm products from across the country.

Republicans nominated Dole their presidential candidate in 1996 to challenge President Bill Clinton.  In “A Better America,” Dole’s acceptance speech for the GOP presidential nomination, he spoke of foreign policy successes by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He called Nixon “a diplomatic genius” for engaging China and Russia.

“Were it not for Reagan,” Dole said, “the Soviet Union would still be standing today.” President George H. W. Bush, Dole said, used “a mastery that words fail to convey” in liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Dole selected former New York U.S. Congressman Jack Kemp as his running mate.

Dole lost his presidential run to incumbent Clinton, who, two months later graciously awarded his challenger the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “A man of the heartland, he brought common sense, uncommon skill, and a prairie wit to the United States Senate,” read the citation.

In 1998, Dole, 74, participated in Viagra studies and found it “a great drug.” Dole quickly transformed from the doleful face of Erectile Dysfunction to a happy spokesperson for the drug’s manufacturer Pfizer.  Dole was a courageous pioneer in addressing this medical issue.

Dole and McGovern addressed hunger in their 2005 book, “Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith.” In his foreword, former President Clinton wrote Dole “has repeatedly demonstrated that combating malnourishment and hunger is more important than partisan politics.”

Discussing the book in 2007, Dole agreed hunger a huge global issue, but one he felt solvable due to technological advances in farming, improved distribution and support from people of faith. His Senate leadership on farm policy helped farmers realize the potential of global markets and helped support farm prices, incomes and to expand rural economies.

I am proud to have worked for Dole’s campaigns and, as I often tell him in emails and letters, I remain a Dole Man and the sound of a double Dole ticket of Bob and former U.S. Senator and wife Elizabeth Dole, or Dole/Dole 2020 has appeal!


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