Bob Dole was a Kansan through and through. A proud product of Russell, Kansas, where he and his three siblings grew up amid the Dust Bowl and Depression with parents who moved the family into the basement of their home and rented the space upstairs to make ends meet. It was an upbringing that formed the foundation of Dole’s enthusiastic advocacy for all walks of American life.
Dole’s honorable and brave service to his country as a captain in the U.S. Army is well documented. While attempting to rescue an Army radioman on April 14, 1945, Dole was critically wounded resulting in the loss of a kidney, use of his right arm and most of the feeling in his left arm. But he willed himself to live. And he learned to write with his left hand. For his distinguished service, he earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. It is, from my perspective, Dole’s less publicized accomplishments that have left an indelible mark on all levels of society in America and even worldwide. Dole championed for all people regardless of party affiliation, pedigree or position.
During his 27 years serving on the House and Senate Agriculture committees, Dole’s steadfast advocacy for the American farmer ensured rural communities could remain vibrant and relevant. Inflation and high interest rates in the early 1980s put farmers in peril and many abandoned their farms for other work to pay their bills. Dole’s signature negotiation skills resulted in a five-year farm bill that protected farmers yet cut costs, all while addressing the national deficit.
Recognizing the role of hunger in the cycle of poverty, Dole assisted millions of Americans through his work on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and creation of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The unlikely duo, George McGovern and Dole, received the 2008 World Food Prize in recognition of their efforts.
“While our agricultural surpluses provide ample evidence of this nation as a major world food producer, it’s intolerable to most Americans that some people are going hungry in this land,” Dole commented at the time. Their efforts were recognized again in 2013 when Dole and McGovern were co-recipients of the newly named McGovern/Dole Leadership Award.
The 1980 bipartisan Bayh-Dole Act (named for Sen. Birch Bayh and Dole), gave universities, nonprofits and small businesses the ability to retain ownership of patents on inventions resulting from their federally funded research. The Economist magazine at the time declared it “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half century.” The licensing activity resulting from the legislation created $591 billion to U.S. gross domestic product and supported an estimated 4.2 million U.S. jobs between 1996-2015.
Dole’s 1969 maiden speech in the U.S. Senate focused on discrimination against persons with disabilities. By partnering with prominent Democrats and Republicans, Dole successfully secured enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 providing millions of Americans with public access and employment opportunities. In addition, he worked to ensure that those disabled who could eventually return to work continued to qualify for Medicaid so they could receive the health care required to reach that goal. Dole also fought for Senate ratification of the International Treaty for People with Disabilities, yet to be ratified, which would commit nations to ensuring equality of opportunity for people with disabilities.
Senator Dole sponsored legislative initiatives benefiting America’s veterans, such as the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act and the Veterans Health Care Administrative Flexibility Act.
His commitment to fairness and opportunities for all individuals extended to his work with the Retirement Equity Act of 1983, the Sexual Assault Prevention Act, the Violence Against Women Act and his authorship of the Glass Ceiling Commission.
Yes, Bob Dole was known as a trusted dealmaker reaching across the aisle to create bipartisan compromises. More importantly, Bob Dole was a man of and for all people.
Lee Tafanelli is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. in Topeka.