Topeka In advance of ceremonies Wednesday honoring former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole with the Congressional Gold Medal, two state lawmakers in Topeka shared their thoughts and memories of him.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, who is the associate director of the Dole Institute of Politics on the University of Kansas campus, said she has developed a deep admiration of Dole in her 13 years in that job.
"They couldn’t have given it to a better person," she said in an interview Tuesday, "especially when we look at how things are today. He reached across the aisle when Democrats were totally in control, because he realized that was the only way he was going to make a difference for people in Kansas and in areas where he wanted to make a difference."
Dole, who is now 94, represented Kansas in Congress for 35 years. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 1960, then to the U.S. Senate in 1968.
He was the Republican nominee for vice president in 1976, running unsuccessfully with then-President Gerald Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter. And Dole won the GOP presidential nomination himself in 1996, eventually losing to incumbent President Bill Clinton.
He stepped down from the Senate in June 1996 to focus his energy on that presidential bid.
During his time in the Senate, he served as both majority leader and minority leader and developed a reputation as one who could, at times, work in a bipartisan manner.
"He was very instrumental in WIC — Women Infants and Children — Social Security, and he and Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) did a lot together on food stamps," Ballard said. "He reached across the aisle to get things done. And I think the nation was better off; the state of Kansas was better off."
Bill Lacy, the director of the Dole Institute, also praised the decision to award Dole the medal.
"I cannot imagine someone more deserving of a Congressional Gold Medal than Senator Bob Dole," he said in a statement. "As a public servant, veteran and statesman, his career has improved the lives of millions of Americans. As a proud Kansan, he has never forgotten his home state. We are so pleased to see him honored today and to carry on his legacy of principled leadership at the Dole Institute of Politics."
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who is now speaker pro tem of the Kansas House, shared a more personal memory of meeting Dole during his first, and unsuccessful, campaign for a House seat in 1994.
"I was 22 years old, and it was a Republican year, and I was in Hays," Schwab recalled in a separate interview Tuesday. "He was campaigning with Sheila Frahm and Bill Graves (then candidates for lieutenant governor and governor respectively) out in Hays, and they invited me to share the podium with him. I have pictures of it."
"His words were, ‘Wow, you’re young.’ And he goes, ‘I was young when you all elected me too, so give this kid a chance. You never know where he’ll take you.’ And I was really humbled that he would say something like that about me," Schwab said.
"At first I thought it was going to be something bad, but it was very honoring, and just to share a podium with that man is an impressive memory on my constitution," he added.
The Congressional Gold Medal, along with the Medal of Freedom, is the highest civilian honor the United States bestows, and it is not always bestowed on statesmen or government officials.
Previous recipients have included former presidents, including George Washington, as well as actors, entertainers, inventors and some foreign dignitaries.