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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Sen. Roberts wields influence

April 6, 2005

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Some among us believe that innovative thoughts on weighty international issues are pretty much the limited purview of the men and women with Harvard, Princeton or Yale pedigrees. Though the Ivy League has produced many accomplished thinkers over the years that clearly is not always the case.

One individual who has surfaced on the global scene as a person of enormous influence is U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a graduate of Kansas State University and a man of uncommon knowledge, wit and self-deprecation. It is fitting, therefore, that he chairs the powerful Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

His vice chair is Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a Harvard graduate. Roberts and Rockefeller make an engaging team, one a Republican from a land-grant state university, and the other a Democrat from an elite private school. They make the system in the legislative branch of the federal government work as it was intended to function.

Their international travels in recent months, visits to many of the globe's troubled regions, have left a favorable impression on most world leaders since they are studied, well intentioned leaders, people who are committed to the common good among nations.

Roberts and Rockefeller sometimes disagree on matters of substance, even on Sunday morning television interview shows, but always with civility. They swam through the swift currents of the 9-11 Commission during a presidential year, and in doing so they caught more than a few arrows from political critics. But it needs to be said that the pair emerged with their integrity intact when addressing difficult issues as the war on terror, weapons of mass destruction, international friends and foes, subjects that do not lend themselves to fast and easy answers.

The two enjoy growing and widespread respect from their Senate colleagues. Roberts, a former journalist and Marine, came to the Senate chamber after 16 years of service in the House of Representatives, representing a rural district in Kansas. He once chaired the House Agriculture Committee and is frequently sought out by peers from both political parties on matters relating to agricultural and rural development issues.

Rockefeller, a former two-term governor of West Virginia, has emerged as an expert on energy issues, especially as they relate to coal and natural gas, staples of his state and region. He, too, has served senators as a source of information on the complex and ever-changing energy scene. He speaks with clarity on health care reform and the needs of children and families.

During my years as president of West Virginia University and as chancellor of Kansas University, I worked closely with both gentlemen. In knowing them I can say that they differ stylistically, but more often than not unite in terms of fundamental values. As members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, they can be partisan, but only to a point. The common good seems to win out with regularity.

Significantly, Roberts and Rockefeller like and respect each other, and understand the role of frequent consultation on subjects of importance. They involve committee members and do not act unilaterally.

In many ways, they are throwbacks to the days of Sens. Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois and Hubert Horatio Humphrey of Minnesota, to a time when the magnitude of the issues took precedence over the heat of political division. Those were the days when partisanship was, without question, second in importance to the common good of America and the world.

There is too much discussion today about blue and red states, about a closely divided electorate. Perhaps it is time to focus on what Americans have in common and what they can rally around. The international community has to be mystified, at times, with the recent divisiveness in American culture.

And with all of this political turbulence it appears that Sens. Roberts and Rockefeller are on to something, something good for the country.

-- Gene A. Budig is a former president/chancellor at Illinois State University, West Virginia University, and Kansas University, and past president of Major League Baseball's American League. He now serves as the College Board professor in New York.

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