Lunch with Sen. Kassebaum (Gambling Pays Off)

Topeka Capital-Journal
Oct. 16, 1989

Let it be said that the lady kept her word. Senator Nancy Kassebaum, true to her promise, bought my lunch last Thursday in Washington to make up for the five bucks she cost me when I bet a lawyer, of all people, that she wouldn’t run for office again next year.

Actually, I even came out a little ahead on the deal. Lunch in the Senate dining room of the Capitol cost a little more than I lost, plus I had the pleasure of her company and got to enjoy the rarified air of one of the most exclusive clubs in the country.

There are only 100 senators, and it is an understatement to say they are treated well. It is not difficult to understand why she, or anybody, would decide to return to the task of helping to run the country and, for that matter, the world.

But she said the decision wasn’t all that easy, that when she walked into the press conference to announce her decision on whether to seek reelection, she still wasn’t 100 percent certain what she’d say.

It was so uncertain that her daughter called her after the conference to ask what she had said. And it was so up in the air that the betting on which way she’d go was split in the Dan Glickman family.

Glickman was primed to give up his congressional seat to run for the Senate if Nancy retired, and she called him right after announcing her decision. He said he was disappointed, although he had a hunch she would run. His wife, on the other hand, was sure she wouldn’t.

So it went. The decision was a well-kept secret, but a secret is easy to keep if nobody knows what it is. “I figured I fared pretty well overall. I lost five dollars to a lawyer, which makes for a dark day, but the pain was eased substantially by the hospitality of our junior senator. It is nice to know she will be around for another six years, and probably longer.

Naturally, being at the seat of power in our government, I steered the conversation to the critical issues of the day, both in Washington and back home in Kansas. Senator Nancy was outspoken on all of them. To wit:

She was delighted that Kansas State finally won a football game. “But look what happened a week later,” she added. (Nebraska 58 K State 7). “I think Colorado will win the Big Eight this year, and it’s about time somebody other than Nebraska or Oklahoma did.”

We talked about the pressures of the office, and she first said they weren’t intolerable, and then proved it. Halfway through lunch one of her staff members came to tell her there was a Republican caucus at 1:30. She said thanks and went on eating it was 1:35.

As lunch ended, a dining room hostess came to the table to say there had been a phone call, asking her to inform Sen. Kassebaum there was a Republican caucus at 1:30. It was 1:45, and she said thanks again and ordered a small piece of cheesecake for dessert. She ate it all, too. “When I get there,” she said, “they’ll still be arguing. I’ll be there in time to vote.” We parted at 1:55. That’s the way to handle that kind of pressure. Take time to eat your cheesecake.

She had returned from Kansas just the night before, and we covered the great weather the state has been enjoying. She said she didn’t want to return to Washington, but that’s one of the bad things about the job.

“It can be terribly frustrating,” she said, “because there are the times when you feel nothing is being accomplished,” referring to the fact the senate was bogged down that day on how to cut the deficit, and I was tempted to say, so what else is new?

“But you can get so wrapped up in issues,” she continued, “that you feel you must fight them through. I feel, for example, that reorganization of committees is something that must be done. We must change it so that the committee that authorizes something also appropriates the money for it. “The way it is now, the Armed Services committee can authorize something, but the Appropriations Committee has to fund it. The result is that the appropriations people wind up running everything, and that’s wrong.”

On an issue that regularly goes beyond the boiling point, she said she’s pro-choice in the abortion arena, but is totally turned off by the “shrillness” of some of its advocates.

She says she meets regularly with the anti-abortion people, respects their position and asks only that they respect hers. The meetings are not always totally friendly. From their point of view, she wishes parental consent could somehow be worked into new laws.

She wonders, like everybody else, if Gov. Mike Hayden has been hurt by charges of illegal campaign contributions, or by recent disclosures regarding attorney’s fees. She wonders, too, if Mike Johnston might not be a stronger Democrat for Hayden than John Carlin.

She doesn’t think Jim Slattery could slip back into the governor’s race now without appearing “too opportunistic,” and doubts that even a strong grassroots movement of petitions and so on could remove the label.

At lunch with us was my son, Steve, who went to work for Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, after his former boss, Lowell Welcker of Connecticut, was beaten last year. Levin runs again in 1990 and Nancy had some bad news for Steve.

“Some Republicans,” she said, “think Sen. Levin is vulnerable.” Steve managed to finish lunch, but just barely.

There were six other senators in the dining room, including Mikulski of Maryland the only other woman in the club. Noting this, Sen. Nancy said she is probably lucky to be there, recalling there were nine candidates in her first senatorial primary.

“If it had been just me and a couple of strong men’s candidates, I doubt I would have made it,” she said. She’s too modest.

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