Winfield Now is the time to practice tolerance and to end political divisions that threaten progress, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said as he delivered the inaugural address in the Docking Lecture Series at Southwestern College.
But there is hope for the future, said Roberts, a Republican, while honoring George and Robert Docking, who both served as Kansas governor and were staunch Democrats.
"I regret to say the goal, and even the means, of achieving unity seems to be lacking today," Roberts said. " ... It is a simple fact that if any nation's leaders allow themselves to be polarized, that nation's citizens will act accordingly. In America today, we are politicized, polarized and balkanized."
He told the audience of students, educators and community leaders that on the Sunday morning talk shows, and in Congress, debate becomes a partisan one-upmanship, trumping the respect and balance needed for "true problem-solving and progress."
But he continued to say there is light at the end of the tunnel, recalling a recent discussion he had with U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Kansas Democrat, during a forum in Overland Park.
"We had a packed house because people were curious whether these two perspectives from two opposite sides of the aisle would be at odds and full of gloom and doom over the state of political affairs in this country," Roberts said.
"But I can tell you, there was more agreement than disagreement between us during the 90-minute conversation. Both of us could cite many examples throughout our careers, where we had come together from outside the party structure to make a difference for Kansas."
Today's opponents can become tomorrow's allies, Roberts continued.
"Earlier this year I worked with Sen. (Ted) Kennedy (a Massachusetts Democrat) to pass legislation that insured vital U. S. Department of Agriculture commodity assistance would continue to flow to our senior nutrition programs here in Kansas," Roberts said.
"Yes, politics can make for strange bedfellows, but I appreciated that Sen. Kennedy would reach across the aisle to work with me for our working families."
The Docking family has played a prominent role in Kansas government and politics for more than a half-century. In 1956, George Docking was elected governor of Kansas. He served two terms, leaving office in 1961. His son, Robert Docking, was elected governor in 1966 and left office in 1975.
The Docking Lecture Series is underwritten by William Docking of Arkansas City, Thomas Docking of Wichita, and Union State Bank.