Reflections from the Big First


A late night drive through a small town sparked the political career of one of the most prestigious Kansas politicians.

The old story goes that a Republican National Committee member, Huck Boyd, was driving one night from Phillipsburg to Manhattan to fly to a meeting. Passing through Russell, he stopped to check
out a light still on at the county courthouse.

“That was my office, I was the county attorney,” former Senator and Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole said. “And he was very impressed that I would be there at 9 o’clock.”

Dole said Boyd would become his mentor through his political career, which would span more than three decades. But, in his very first campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, Dole remembered needing to distinguish himself from the other two individuals in the race–Keith Sebelius and Phillip Doyle. In order to help differentiate Dole from Doyle, he said the campaign served Dole pineapple juice at all of their events–a tradition that continued for many years.

However, Dole is remembered for much more than campaign refreshments. After his original Congressional district was combined as the result of redistricting, Dole’s representation expanded to include 60 counties as the 1st Congressional District of Kansas. Dole decided to regularly visit each county in the new district, a tradition still upheld today in the Big First.

“If you do not know people, they don’t know you,” Dole said. “And if they do not know you, they probably will not vote for you.”

Dole emphasized, however, that the primary purpose of these meetings were to learn about the individual and industry issues with in the District, not just to campaign.

“We used to meet in some of the counties in the courthouse and it was not a political trip all the time,” he continued. “If people have questions or problems, they would come to the meeting and we would have a couple of people with me who would take notes or take information they had.”

Dole would continue that commitment to constituent service during more than three decades of service in both the House, where he represented the Big First for eight years, and the Senate, in which he served for more than 27 years.

“When I was in Congress we had a 24-hour turnaround,” he said. “We did not always solve the problem in 24 hours. But, at least they knew I had their request and and we were working on it.”

This strong connection to the rural people of the Big First helped support Dole’s political career from a tough re-election campaign in 1974 when Dole said his farmer constituency “saved my bacon” to his term as the longest serving Senate Majority Leader to the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. None of which would have been possible without the agricultural base back home, according to Dole.

Or as he said, “People had confidence in me and I had confidence in the people in the district and it was a good team.”