Views from Kansas: Will Roberts show courage?

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Former Kansas Gov. John Carlin hasn’t served in elective office since 1987, but the one-time dairy farmer who’s now a visiting professor at Kansas State’s Staley School of Leadership Studies is still worth listening to.

And we hope fellow Kansan, Sen. Pat Roberts, is paying attention.

Carlin recently penned a “plea to Senator Roberts” following Roberts’ announcement that he won’t seek re-election in 2020. Carlin urged the Republican senator, 82, to do something he’s not known to do.

“Step up and provide some much-needed leadership on key issues not currently being addressed,” Carlin wrote, “and also speak out when the best interests of Kansans, or the values of our country, are not being served.”

Carlin, a Democrat, wasn’t done.

He said Roberts’ “lock-step loyalty” to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his “look-the-other-way approach to the words and actions of President Trump” had “set back the country and also hurt Kansans, even on the issue to which Senator Roberts has devoted the most time over the years — agriculture.”

Carlin noted that Roberts has stood up to the president on trade, but he noted that Roberts could make a significant statement if he challenged Trump on climate change, which is central to the farm economy. He explained that climate change could eventually undermine the wheat crop.

“Another 10 years and who knows what we might be facing,” Carlin wrote.

The Kansas tradition, Carlin reminded Roberts, is to “be a bellwether for common sense and decency … If not now, we’ll be left to conclude that blind party loyalty has won out, and it will put a lasting stain on a long and distinguished career in public service.”

We agree and were struck by Roberts’ vote on Jan. 16 to side with the president on relaxing sanctions on three Russian companies. Other Republicans, including Roberts’ Kansas colleague, Sen. Jerry Moran, and Missouri’s freshman senator, Josh Hawley, broke from their party in a common-sense effort to challenge presidential policy that caters to Russia and continues to perplex.

Said Moran in a statement: “I will not support the lifting of sanctions until President Putin and Russia changes its hostile behavior.”

Roberts, though, issued no statements, and his office declined comment. He’s spent too much of his four-decade career rolling with the political tide and rarely rocking the boat. That’s served him well in a career with 24 elections wins and precisely zero losses.

But legacies are about more than win-loss records and loyalty to same-party presidents. The fate of our grandchildren should matter. Roberts, it should be noted, has been with Trump 100 percent of the time since January. In the previous Congress, his Trumpian batting average topped 96 percent.

Once upon a time, Roberts privately chastised Gov. Sam Brownback. As the state shifted to become more conservative, Roberts emerged as a loyalist and made hardly a fuss over the governor’s epic tax cuts that nearly drove his state into the ground.

In his final years in Washington, Roberts could be the guy who speaks truth to power as Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum once did. He could draw from his decades of experience and stand on principle instead of just sticking with the Republican majority.

What Carlin fears, and we do, too, is that Roberts will simply aim to get along. We want more from our senator.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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