By Congressional Quarterly
Although Kansans will have reduced clout in the Senate after the loss of veteran Republican deal-makers Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, they can look to Roberts to help fill the void.
Indeed, Roberts will be the only member in the entire six-person Kansas delegation with more than two years' experience on Capitol Hill. In 1996, Kansas experienced what Roberts calls a "Mount Vesuvius situation" -- a series of retirements and open seats that swept Roberts and his House colleague Sam Brownback into the Senate and three new Republicans into the House.
Roberts' election to the Senate caps a 28-year political career. After working as a House aide for 12 years, he served as a representative for 16 years -- the last two as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. One of the most popular politicians in Kansas, he brings to the Senate a caustic wit, a reliably conservative vote and a fierce dedication to rural causes.
The major force behind 1996 omnibus farm legislation, Roberts is expected to become a leading player on the Senate Agriculture Committee. One of his priorities will be to monitor the reforms enacted in 1996 to help ensure that they continue. He also expects to focus on agriculture-related tax issues, regulatory reform and research.
A former Marine, Roberts also will sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he plans to cast a watchful eye on the commitment of U.S. troops to peacekeeping missions around the world.
On many social issues, he is likely to weigh in to the right of his predecessor, Kassebaum, who supported abortion rights and some gun control measures. Instead, Roberts is politically similar to Dole: a pragmatic conservative favoring aid to farmers, scaled-back federal regulations and tighter government budgets.
But one of his plans upon entering the Senate was to propose a comprehensive child care plan, focusing in large part on low-income families.
Roberts' road to the Senate, which at first seemed a potentially easy one, was instead filled with twists and turns.
When speculation mounted in 1995 that Kassebaum would not be seeking a fourth Senate term, Roberts -- then in his eighth term representing western Kansas' vast agricultural 1st District -- seemed the likely front-runner to replace her.
But on Nov. 13, just a week before Kassebaum's long-anticipated official announcement, Roberts -- who for months had been raising money for a potential Senate bid -- stunned many observers by pulling his name from consideration. He cited his responsibilities on the Agriculture Committee as a factor that could distract him from the planned campaign.
After two months of frenzied speculation in Kansas political circles about who might emerge as a new front-runner, Roberts reversed course and declared in January 1996 that he would indeed seek Kassebaum's Senate seat. His decision established him again as the leading contender and discouraged other well-known Republicans from challenging him for the GOP nomination.
After easily defeating three little-known primary opponents on Aug. 6, Roberts faced Democratic state Treasurer Sally Thompson in the general election. The contest between Roberts and Thompson was overshadowed by the late-starting second Senate race in Kansas -- to replace Dole, who had left the Senate in June to focus on his presidential bid.
Nevertheless, the Roberts-Thompson battle was hard-fought. Thompson charged that Roberts had spent too many years in Washington and was out of touch with the concerns of Kansas voters. Roberts criticized Thompson's controversial handling in 1994 of funds in a state pool for municipal programs. In the end, as predicted in some polls, Roberts scored a comfortable win over Thompson.
Friends view Roberts as pleasantly irascible, although the pressures of his chairmanship seemed to make him more testy, both in Washington and on the campaign trail. He publicly apologized after referring to Thompson during the campaign as a "bitch."
After years in the minority, Roberts came into his own during the 104th Congress. Known as "The Aggie" by friends and colleagues, he sponsored "freedom to farm" legislation (PL 104-127) that will generally allow farmers to plant for the marketplace, rather than be bound by restrictive government programs.
But Roberts received mixed reviews for his handling of the legislation. Although he eventually produced a product that both met Republican budget-cutting targets and satisfied powerful agricultural organizations -- no small feat -- he ran into so much opposition that his own committee at one point voted down his proposal.
And in an ominous sign for his Senate effectiveness, he found himself sharply at odds with Senate Democrats, who chafed at what they perceived as his arrogance.
Later in 1996, however, Roberts mended fences with his own committee, winning bipartisan approval of a major rewrite of pesticide laws (PL 104-170). And he won a bruising battle with appropriators by shielding farm programs from cuts in the 1997 agriculture spending bill.
When it comes to protecting farmers, Roberts is not shy about taking on his own party. He opposed President Ronald Reagan's farm policies, and in 1995 he helped push House GOP leaders into abandoning plans to eliminate the food stamp program, which has been a boon to farmers.
Roberts also has the potential to play a role in internal Senate reform issues. In the House, he sat on the Oversight committee that monitors the House's internal operations. He saw one of his longtime complaints about the House resolved in the 104th Congress with the abolishment of the legislative service organizations, which were issue-oriented confederations of like-minded members.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
Kansas - 1st District
Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
Born: May 29, 1954, Great Bend, Kan.
Education: U. of Kansas, B.S. 1976; Fort Hays State U., 1974-75, 1978-79; U. of Kansas, J.D. 1981.
Family: Wife, Robba; two children.
Political Career: Kansas Senate, 1989-97.
Capitol Office: 1217 Longworth Bldg. 20515; 225-2715.
By Congressional Quarterly
In a year when the world of Kansas politics was turned upside down, Moran'S1996 House campaign was an island of relative tranquility.
When eight-term Republican Rep. Pat Roberts decided in January 1996 that he would seek the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Moran quickly established himself as the front-runner in the race to succeed Roberts in the House.
Moran, then the state Senate majority leader, said during the campaign that he would provide similar representation to that offered by Roberts, a pragmatic conservative. Like Roberts, he sees himself as able to gain support from both wings of the Kansas Republican Party, which has been sharply split in recent years between moderates and conservatives.
Moran easily overcame two little-known opponents in the Aug. 6 GOP primary and moved on to face his Democratic opponent, John Divine, an IBM executive and former mayor of Salina.
With the 1st District's strong Republican base, Moran was seen as the likely winner, especially in a year in which Kansas political activists on both sides of the aisle were distracted by two Senate contests and three more-competitive House races.
During the campaign, Moran stressed a message of fiscal restraint, limited government and personal responsibility.
Divine, meanwhile, said he would help family farmers concerned about domination by large agribusiness corporations.
Roberts repeatedly won election in the 1st with 62 percent of the vote or higher, and Moran kept up the tradition in easily overcoming Divine.
In the House, Moran will sit on the Agriculture, International Relations, and Veterans' Affairs committees.
Farming is a key concern in the 1st, a vast western district, and Roberts chaired the Agriculture Committee in the 104th Congress.
Moran will take Roberts' seat on the committee. He supports the "Freedom to Farm" law, the overhaul of agriculture programs that was enacted during the 104th Congress.
But he says he is concerned that tight budgets could make it hard to get all the funding for farmers promised in that bill. On the Agriculture Committee, he notes, he will be well positioned to deal with unforeseen problems that arise as the new law is carried out.
On International Relations, he hopes to focus on trade issues that affect the district's farms and small manufacturing companies.
And on Veterans' Affairs, he plans to stress the importance of VA hospitals, working to ensure that they are adequately funded and that veterans receive proper care.
Another key topic for Moran is likely to be rural health, including how small hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.
A lawyer, Moran won election to the state Senate in 1988, after starting out as a precinct committeeman in 1974 and then working his way through the political ranks in the western part of the state.
In the state Senate, he pushed to cut taxes and hold the line on spending. In addition to serving as majority leader, he sat on the Judiciary committee, where his interests included efforts to strengthen Kansas' laws on juvenile crime.
As a state legislator, Moran says he saw first-hand evidence of the problems caused by federal mandates that were imposed on the states without adequate funding.
He says the unfunded-mandate law enacted during the 104th Congress was a step in the right direction. But he wants Congress to go back and examine all such mandates that are already on the books.
Moran would also like to see members of Congress spend less time in Washington and more in their home states.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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