Kansas Common Sense

On Thursday, December 10, 2020, Senator Pat Roberts addressed the Senate chamber for the last time. Following his farewell address, I had the honor of thanking him for his service to our nation and to our state.

To watch my tribute to Sen. Roberts on the U.S. Senate floor, please click here.

"It’s the time for me to say in return, on behalf of all Kansans, thank you for your service to our nation and to our state. A life being well lived, you are the example."

I met Pat in 1969 and a few years later he was my boss when I interned for Congressman Keith Sebelius. Below, we are pictured together in 1989 in Hanston shortly after I became a Kansas State Senator. 

In September of 1997, I joined then Sen. Roberts and former Sen. Bob Dole in Phillipsburg for the opening of the Huck Boyd Center. Last Thursday, I had the honor of reading Sen. Dole’s remarks to Pat on the Senate floor, which can be read below.

Most recently, I joined Pat and his wife, Franki, at his portrait unveiling in Washington, D.C. Pat is the first Member of Congress to have chaired both the House and Senate agricultural committees, and this portrait will hang in the Senate committee room with his predecessors for years to come. 


My remarks as delivered:

"Mr. President, thank you. Senator Roberts, thank you for your comments.

"I am nervous today, and more nervous now that I have heard you speak, because I am concerned that this may be the first time in our lives that I have ever spoken longer than you. That makes me nervous.

"'I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.'

"These are words spoken by Pat Roberts more than once, but on September 15, 1958, age 22, Pat Roberts joined the Marine Corps, and he has lived by his oath, by his promise to do exactly that every day thereafter and in every job he pursued here in the Congress of the United States, in the House and the Senate.

"He indicated he served as the chief of staff for Senator Frank Carlson, one of those Kansans who served the U.S. Senate and is so highly regarded even today. He served as the chief of staff for Congressman Keith Sebelius.

"I met Pat Roberts 50 years ago, in 1969. A few years later, in 1974, I became an intern in the office of Congressman Sebelius. Pat has been my boss for 45 years.

"When I describe Pat, I tell people our most common conversation is never spoken. It is symbols. Pat does this: ‘Come here; sit down.’ Every time I tell Pat this, he—in his Jack Benny voice—will say: ‘now cut that out.’ But for 45 years: ‘Come here; sit down.’ And Pat, while you discount that and I highlight it, it has been some of the most enjoyable times in my life, where I have had the opportunity to be your friend and to listen to what you had to say.

"I suppose if I thought long and hard, I might find something that wasn’t good advice, but I can’t remember it. So everything in those circumstances was something that I continue to value today. I learned something in every conversation.

"Knowing Pat for 50 years, I told him that he just keeps me around and he puts up with me because I have at least heard of the people he knows. He does know people. Pat and I both grew up in times of politics in which your relationship with voters, your relationship with constituents, your relationship with Kansans was paramount.

"Pat knew the school superintendent in every community. Pat knew the executive of the chamber of commerce and the newspaper editor. He knew the president of the county Farm Bureau. I don’t know how many times I heard Pat say: ‘I am going home to talk to the coffee klatch in Dodge City’ or ‘I am going to sit on the wagon tongue. and I am going to hear from Kansans what they have to tell us.'

"Politics, as you heard from Senator Roberts, is in his blood and in his family—Wes Roberts, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; Franki Roberts, the staff person for Strom Thurmond. It is in his blood and in his family. It is not just politics, but public service.

"In 1980, Pat Roberts decided to be an office holder, not an office staffer. The first letter I ever wrote to an editor of a Kansas paper was to my hometown, where his primary opponent lived. I supported Pat Roberts in a letter to the editor when his opponent was somebody who was highly regarded and a friend of mine. But Pat Roberts’ friendship and his commitment—who he is as a human being and his sworn oath—told me that Pat Roberts was the person I wanted to be my Congressman. The constituent in me said: ‘This is the guy I want serving me and my fellow Kansans.'

"He won that election in January of 1981 and became a House Member representing the First Congressional District of Kansas, known in our State as ‘The Big First.’ The geography of that district today—and almost true when Pat was the Congressman—is the size of the State of Illinois. The largest city is Salina, which then had a population of about 35,000. It is a rural place, and it fit the Pat Roberts’ mode of representation, which was, ‘I know them and they know me.'

"He was elected with a significant majority of voters. He won seven times to be reelected to the House of Representatives. He never received less than 60 percent of the vote, and in his last election to the House of Representatives, he received nearly 78 percent of Kansans’ approval.

"Sitting on those wagon tongues and listening in on those coffee klatches had its consequence. It is the kind of politics that Pat described that I hope we return to, in which it is all about taking care of Kansans, taking care of Americans, setting aside our differences and finding common ground, just as Kansans— particularly, rural Kansans—have to do in their community.

"On January 3, 1997, Pat was sworn in as a member of this body.

"I asked Robba, my wife, what it is I might say today. She said she remembers in about early 1996—maybe late 1995—she answered the phone, and it was Pat Roberts. What he said was, ‘Tell Jerry to put his running shoes on.'

"Pat Roberts gave me the advantage of knowing his plans well in advance of the public or potential opponents, and set the stage in my life as somebody whom you would look at and think there is no chance of ever being a U.S. Senator, but Pat Roberts found value in me and gave me the opportunity to serve where I serve today.

"I never thought I would catch up with Pat in the House of Representatives. I never thought I would catch up with Pat Roberts in the U.S. Senate, but because he and his friends took an interest in me and because this is America, that became possible.

Pat is only the 34th Kansan to serve a term in the U.S. Senate. I like that number. Pat will recognize that 34 is special to Kansans. We were the 34th State admitted to the Union, and he is the 34th Senator to serve a term from Kansas in this body.

"Pat Roberts told me to put my running shoes on, gave me a chance, and we have had those running shoes on for a long time thereafter.

"Pat is that fourth generation Kansan who knows us. I would say one of his greatest contributions to our state, to the Midwest and to the country has been his distinguished career in leadership in agriculture. The farm bills that he mentioned, the work with Democrats and Republicans coming together, fighting for competitive and fair markets for our producers, the support for crop insurance—there is no question that Kansas and American farmers, ranchers, and producers had a strong voice in Congress as a result of Pat Roberts being here.

"He is distinguished by being the first Member of Congress to chair both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. In the next Congress, we will begin the process of writing another farm bill, and it will be the first farm bill since the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 that will be written without Pat Roberts’ direct influence. However, Senator Roberts’ legacy and impact on farm policy will be felt for generations to come as a result of his work in the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, the 2000 Agriculture Risk Protection Act that modernized crop insurance, and many, many other pieces of consequential legislation.

"In his early years in the Senate, as Senator Roberts indicated, he led the Intelligence Committee. This was during the 9/11 attacks. Under his leadership, the committee conducted a sweeping and exhausting review of U.S. intelligence, which led to critical reforms to put us in a better position to know more and protect Americans better.

"That work in intelligence reform earned him a spot in a very distinguished guest speaker program, the prestigious Landon Lecture Series of Kansas State University. Combining his experience in agriculture, intelligence and in defense, Senator Roberts has laid the groundwork for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility at his alma mater in Manhattan, Kansas. It brings great opportunity to our state, and we are so pleased to have Pat’s accomplishments benefit the country and our state for generations to come.

"Pat Roberts deserves great credit for the Eisenhower Memorial. I have been around this issue for a long time. It has been challenging from the get-go. Nothing was easy, and controversy apparently follows every new memorial on the National Mall. I have no doubt that in the absence of Pat’s leadership, his bringing people together and perhaps, yes, his sense of humor, Kansans’ President Eisenhower would never be seen honored and respected at the memorial we now have.

"He, Senator Roberts, advocates for policies he believes in. He compromises when necessary, and he always has a way of bringing everyone together, often with a joke ready to ease the tensions when things get stressful. I always used to tell him: I saw that, once again, you became the funniest member of Congress. You got an award. He always would correct me: No, I am not the funniest member; I am the most humorous member. Many times he has been designated the most humorous member of Congress.

"Some of the most important work he has done for Kansans won’t be memorialized in laws passed or signed into law here in Washington, D.C., but in the meaningful change he made back home among the people whom he and I care for and love. How about the rural hospitals he fought for to keep their doors open or the family farms that are still operating because of decisions and efforts he made? He has consistently, continuously fought to get farmers and ranchers, to get rural communities, to get the people of Kansas the right resources at the right time.

"I have had the challenge of following in politics in my life, in both the House and the Senate, those humorous people—Pat Roberts being one. The greatest challenge, probably for both of us, is Bob Dole. How can you ever follow Bob Dole in any way, and how can you compete with his sense of humor and, particularly, his wit?

"So I asked Senator Dole what it is I might say on this floor to honor Pat Roberts. As usual, he took my responsibilities away from me and said: ‘Here, just read this.’ So these are the words of Bob Dole:

'One of my first memories of Pat was when he worked for the late great Sen. Pat Carlson. Of course that was well over 50 years ago, when Pat was just a young child and I was . . . well . . . maybe just a teenager.

‘Pat has the best sense of humor of anyone in Congress—I’m not sure how he acquired it, but I know it serves him well today.

‘Pat—I honestly don’t know what it is like to be retired, but people tell me it’s great. Be forewarned, though, the rest of the world doesn’t operate exactly like the Senate . . . If anything goes wrong or breaks at home, your trusted Chief of Staff isn’t on speed dial to put out the fires. Plus, there’s nobody to dial your calls for you anyway.

‘Put your alarm clock up for sale on eBay— (1) somebody out there might want to buy a beat-up clock once owned by a famous Senator and (2) you won’t need to wake up early ever again in your life . . . unless you just want to go sit in the D.C. traffic for old time’s sake.

‘You’ll have to brew your own coffee . . . so buy one of those space-age looking contraptions or make friends with your local barista. You’ll have to share elevators with the rest of the world now, so just stop looking for that ‘Senators Only’ sign.

‘Your grandkids are now your information technology department, so reward them accordingly if you want your computer to be up and running. Or just ask Alexa.

‘But in all seriousness, Pat, you’ve earned some time off for a job well done in Congress over these past 40 years. Kansas has certainly benefited from your steadfast leadership. You care about the Sunflower State, and you care about our nation—and that’s always been what matters most.

‘Your strength of character, plain-spoken optimism and determination to make a positive difference in people’s lives—that’s what people will remember about your legacy of public service here.

‘You’re a great American and a dear friend, and Elizabeth and I wish you nothing but the best for you and Franki from here on out. One important point of clarification, though—the filibuster simply doesn’t work at home. God Bless America, Bob Dole.’

“I know that all of us and Kansans have great regard for Senator Dole. I also know that Kansans and all of us have great regard for Pat Roberts. My guess, in knowing Pat, is that his role model—the person he may admire the most—is that Kansan, Dwight Eisenhower.

"In the book ‘How Ike Led,’ which Pat gave us all a copy of, I read that Ike led with a sense of humor as part of the art of leadership of getting along with people and getting things done. He also said, ‘The supreme quality for leadership was, unquestionably, integrity. Without it, no real success was possible no matter whether it was on a section gang, a football field, in the Army, or in an office.'

"Pat Roberts, I have no doubt that you have lived up to that role model— that Kansan who is esteemed around the world—and you have led like Ike led. I thank you and your staff for all that you have done for Kansas and for America. I thank you for what you have done for me and our team.

"Your mom and your dad—your dad, you say, got you started in this politics world. I knew your mom; I never met your dad. They would be so proud of you for the service that you are completing this term.

"To Franki, David, Ashleigh and Anne-Wesley, thank you for your support and engagement. It is not Pat Roberts—it is the family—and you have all been engaged in his politics and his public service day in and day out. Robba and I wish you and Franki absolutely the best.

"I told a Kansas farmer what I was doing but didn’t ask him for any advice as to what to say. His last comment— he is a rancher from Elkhart—was, ‘As a Kansan, I would want to know that my senator fought for my values in D.C. and that the senator did everything he could to ensure our part of the world was a priority to the nation.'

"To the rancher in Elkhart, Pat Roberts is exactly that—a Kansan who fought for our values at home while in Washington, and did everything he could do to ensure that our part of the world was not forgotten in this part of the world.

"So, Pat, I guess you said thank you to Kansans, and you said thank you to this Senate. I think it is time for me to say in return, on behalf of all Kansans, thank you for your service to our nation and to our state. For a life being well lived, you are the example. Thank you.”

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