Here's how former US Sen. Nancy Kassebaum wants Bob Dole to be remembered and taught in history classes

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Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum speak at a news conference in 1984.
Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum speak at a news conference in 1984.

Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum wants Kansans to remember Bob Dole as a senator who was willing to compromise as he represented Kansans.

"What we should remember is, as Kansans, how fortunate we were to have him as a United States senator," Kassebaum said of Dole.

Dole, age 98, died in his sleep Sunday morning. He was the elder statesman of Kansas Republican politics, a former U.S. senator and Senate majority leader, the 1996 GOP nominee for president and a native of Russell.

More: Bob Dole, former U.S. senator and presidential candidate, has died. He was 98 years old.

"I think he will continue to be regarded as one of the recognized and renowned statesmen from Kansas," Kassebaum said Sunday morning in a phone interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal. "It was always Kansas that was the center part of his thinking. He addressed many agricultural issues, food issues, some that he had to fight for.

"He knew it would take working across the aisle. Bob and I have talked about this, that it isn't happening today. You could disagree on issues, but you respect those you were working with or against. It was the issue, not the person, and that respect for what you're trying to do."

More: Bob Dole spent 60 years in the political spotlight. His rise to national prominence started in small-town Kansas.

Today's leaders don't work across the aisle

Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum-Baker talk in 1980.
Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum-Baker talk in 1980.

So what has changed in the past 20-plus years of American politics?

Kassebaum said politicians nowadays spend less time sitting down with the people they represent, whether it be attending town meetings, speaking to local Rotary clubs, knocking on doors or speaking with newspaper reporters. She also called social media as divided as the rest of the country.

"If you only have one side you're listening to, whether on the radio, or television or certainly even more on your iPads and computers, it changes the environment," she said. "You don't have a dialogue anymore, where people kind of sit down and go over the issues back and forth.

More: Bob Dole's constant pen in hand was a reminder of World War II wounds

"I suppose people feel there isn't time for it, but there used to be. And it has carried now on through, and I think in a very destructive way, the ability to work together. We're missing something today."

"If we can't get back," she continued, "and understand how important dialogue is in a discussion of the issues, I think it's a responsibility we have and maybe better recognition of the importance of teaching history in our schools."

Here's what Kansas history teachers should say about Bob Dole

Former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum on Sunday talked about her longtime friendship with former Sen. Bob Dole.
Former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum on Sunday talked about her longtime friendship with former Sen. Bob Dole.

When Kansas history teachers talk to students about Dole during class, Kassebaum wants them to note the issues he worked on and his perseverance through disability.

Perhaps best-known for his work on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dole himself went through life with a disability from a World War II injury.

"He's an example of someone who did not give up, but who cared a lot about people in the state particularly, because he knew they were for him when he couldn't be up and about," Kassebaum said.

More: Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, Republican elder statesman, announced he has advanced lung cancer

She also points to Dole's work on food issues. In the 1970s, Dole partnered with Sen. George McGovern, a South Dakota Democrat, on legislation to make food stamps more accessible. After leaving office following the failed presidential run, Dole and McGovern took their work global, creating an international school lunch program for children in developing countries.

"Certainly it was a disappointment when the presidential campaign fell through," Kassebaum said. "But again, it's an example of Bob, he picked himself up and went on to supporting those issues. Even though he was no longer in the Senate, he was a voice still to be reckoned with."

Kassebaum said she and Dole did not always agree and she was occasionally a "thorn in his side."

But Dole "respected that there were differences within the party, as well as across the aisle," she said. "Today, the Republicans are just as lock-stepped in the Senate as the Democrats are on their side. That does not help us reach, I believe, the strongest, most effective legislative agenda."

Bob Dole didn't hold votes against anybody for long

Kassebaum said she and Dole stayed in contact and she valued his friendship.

"I did appreciate that Bob — and I think it's a lesson for all of us — I'm sure he might have been disappointed when I would be arguing against him on some issue. ... We still could chuckle about it later, and that's why I say that attitude has left the Congress now.

More: Photos: Bob Dole, former presidential candidate, US senator and Kansas political icon

"We've seem to become so divided. It's either you're with us or against us, and you're sort of having to work in lockstep, or you're just left out. And that was not Bob's feature, ever. He might be annoyed if he knew he'd lost a vote that he thought he should have gotten. But he didn't hold it against anybody, at least for any length of time."

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Bob Dole represents era of bipartisan politics, Nancy Kassebaum says

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