Archive for Thursday, October 29, 1992


October 29, 1992


After spending years studying and teaching political science, Ralph Tanner of Baldwin is trying to practice what he's preached in his run for the Douglas County Commission.

Tanner, the 65-year-old former president of Baker University, invokes the names of Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson when describing his approach to government. But before voters view his remarks as an essay quiz, Tanner explains that he wants a smaller and more accountable county government.

"Government should be at the control of the people," he said.

Tanner, a Republican, said he felt government ought to be "understandable enough" so average citizens can understand what is going on and develop an opinion based on facts.

Bob Lawson, who serves with Tanner on the Baldwin Planning and Zoning Commission, said Tanner would bring plenty of facts to the county's table.

"I feel that he is well educated and knows our needs for the whole county," Lawson said.

He added that he is impressed by Tanner's resourcefulness.

"If we come up against something, he'll find the answer if he has to go to Lawrence, Ottawa or Paola to get it," Lawson said. "I figure he'll work that way with the county, and he's a very fair man."

Lawson also likes Tanner's common touch, remembering how he would come back and wash and dry dishes "like everyone else" after church meetings while he was president at Baker.

TANNER led Baker from 1979 to 1987. After retiring from the university, he served as president of the Kansas Independent College Fund for 2 years.

Tanner moved to Kansas from his native Alabama to take over the Baker presidency. He earned a bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala. He later earned a doctorate in U.S. history and political science from the University of Alabama.

He and his wife, Judith, are the parents of three children, all graduates of Baker. Their son, Clay, is a doctoral candidate in linguistics at the University of Iowa. A daughter, Susanne Smith, is a teacher in Wichita, and another daughter, Caroline, lives in Baldwin.

The Tanners have built a retirement home in Baldwin and call Kansas their home. Tanner said he likes the rural open spaces of Douglas County because it reminds him of Alabama.

"I was born and raised on a farm and still have a very deep feeling for agrarian life. I am a Jeffersonian agrarian . . . he believed that there is real value in growing things," he said. "I like to see things grow. I love gardening and farming."

Tanner said that since he announced his candidacy in June, he's had days when he asked himself, " `Why did you do this?' My life was pretty pleasant and pretty simple before I began campaigning."

But those thoughts are few and far between. Tanner said running for office is a "kind of a civic rent that ought to be paid" for enjoying the county.

"I FEEL I owe it to the people," he said. "This part of the world has been good to me and my family. This part of the world is capable of doing a lot of good for a lot of people.

"I just think this county has more things going for it than most of the counties anywhere in or out of Kansas."

While Tanner favors smaller government, he said he strongly favors "shared programs" between the public and the private sector, such as the Bert Nash Mental Health Center. He said he also would like to see parallel programs to Habitat for Humanity that would combine private and public funding.

Of current politicians, Tanner said he most admires Sen. Nancy Kassebaum. He said she is an able, honest, caring and bright person "who made it easy for me to switch from a Southern Democrat to a Kansas Republican."

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