AllPolitics - Candidates


Jack Kemp

PARTY: Republican
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, Calif.
FAMILY: Married to Joanne, 4 children
RELIGION: Presbyterian
EDUCATION: Occidental College, B.A. (1957)
CURRENT JOB: Co-founder, Empower America (founded 1993)
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: Conservative progressive
PET ISSUE: Supply-side economics
BIGGEST PLUS: He's got "the vision thing"
BIGGEST MINUS: loose cannon, has had major differences with Dole
CAMPAIGN HEADQUARTERS: Dole for President Inc., Robert E. Lighthizer,
Treasurer, 810 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002


There may be no truer heir to Ronald Reagan's legacy than the irrepressibly optimistic former Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jack French Kemp. Born and raised in Los Angeles, the young Kemp set his sights on becoming a professional football player, attending Occidental College in L.A., in part, because the team used professional formations. After college, he realized his dream with the Bills, where he played for 10 years. But Kemp was also a thinker. Teammates recall that the magazines Kemp read didn't have pictures. He devoured history, economics and politics. After getting his first experiences in politics as a volunteer for California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Kemp began his political career in 1970 as a representative from Buffalo.

Kemp displayed his independence early on, authoring ambitious legislation outside the jurisdiction of the committees on which he served. Under the tutelage of former Wall Street Journal editor Jude Wanniski, Kemp became entranced by supply-side economics -- the theory that lowering tax rates would stimulate economic growth, and by enlarging the tax base, would ultimately increase revenues to the government. In 1978, he introduced a tax-cutting bill in the House which candidate Reagan would later adopt and make the centerpiece of his domestic program.

While many believe now that the 1980s experiment with supply-side did not work, Kemp still believes it did. And Dole's recent proposal to cut taxes across-the-board by 15 percent is probably one of the main reasons the Dole-Kemp match-up became attractive to Kemp. In his bones, he believes that lower taxes will allow workers to use their extra take-home earnings to produce, invest and create, and, at the same time, increase the government's revenue from taxes. Kemp sees tax cuts as a virtual panacea for social ills. Ask him about fledging Latin American democracies, unwanted inner-city pregnancies or Third World population control, and he'll answer with tax cuts and monetary security which he says will make wage-earning more enticing.

But Kemp's thinking has evolved. He says in 1970 he was a "right-wing Republican who wanted to balance the budget." But as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for George Bush, he says, "I started going around talking to labor unions and working people and small businessmen and women and people on the street, and I found out there was just too much suffering." Kemp no longer believes that balancing the budget is key, nor does he want the budget to be balanced at the expense of social programs that people depend on. At HUD, Kemp began calling himself "a compassionate conservative" and championed the idea of selling public housing to tenants, a move he thought, by giving them ownership, would empower them. It was an expensive idea that the Bushies never pushed, to Kemp's dismay.

After Bush's defeat, Kemp teamed with conservative moralist William Bennett to found Empower America, a conservative think tank. From there, he angered many Republicans by speaking out against California's Prop 187, a measure to deny social services to illegal immigrants. He then broke conservative orthodoxy further by speaking up for affirmative action, as many in the GOP were skewering it.

But, if Kemp has angered Republicans, he is still a party favorite, frequently praised as the sunniest face of conservatism. Surveys of GOP delegates conducted by The Associated Press at the 1996 and 1992 conventions found Kemp was, far and away, the favorite Republican candidate. Kemp himself remains deeply committed to the GOP, frequently recalling the party's roots in Abraham Lincoln while calling the Democrats "an elitist, class-conscious party of envy and division along the lines of, in many cases, income -- and, in other cases, even race."

Though he already changed his positions on immigration and affirmative action, the ever-loquacious Kemp still declares that "the diversity of America is the strength of America....I mean to help transform the party...into a party that is attractive to the heterogeneity, diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism of America." It's a message -- and a messenger -- that Bob Dole, who desperately needs to broaden his electoral base, has shrewdly embraced.

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