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Archive for Saturday, August 27, 2005

Former senator says civil politics becoming rare

August 27, 2005

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— Nancy Kassebaum Baker built a reputation as a moderate, a Republican willing to work with those of either party and varying ideology, in her years in the Senate.

It's more difficult, she said, to find that sort of middle ground in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, political world.

"Maybe it's because we're living in an unsafe world," said Kassebaum Baker, who as Sen. Nancy Kassebaum represented Kansas in Washington from 1978 to 1997. "But we've lived through unsafe worlds before."

Kassebaum Baker, now 73 and married to former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, keeps a lower political profile these days, but said she was still committed to public service.

She's also committed, she said, to keeping women involved in politics.

"I'm not someone who thinks that if women were in charge, we wouldn't have wars. I don't think the differences are that great," she said. "I do think that women understand balance. Women get very involved in what affects their home and their community."

Kassebaum Baker credits other Kansas women such as prohibitionist Carry Nation and Argonia's Susanna Madora Salter, who in 1887 became the nation's first elected female mayor, with paving the way for her and others.

"It hasn't been until recent years that women have had a real voice," she said.

Since returning last year from Japan, where her husband served for four years as U.S. ambassador, Kassebaum Baker has divided her time between living in Tennessee, his home state, and the couple's ranch in the Flint Hills of east-central Kansas.

"Everything is so much quieter here than in Tokyo," she said.

Not that she shies away from public life entirely. Kassebaum Baker was scheduled to speak Friday night at Wichita State University on women's contributions to politics. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

"Kansans have always loved her," event organizer Mary Knecht said. "She earned a wonderful national reputation for her years as a senator."

Kassebaum Baker also plans to touch on the current political climate and what she sees as the overly strident tone of political discourse.

"One of the things I want to speak about is how we are missing the ability to have thoughtful debate today," she said. "It seems like no one wants to listen. It's very disappointing."

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