It somehow feels appropriate that Sen. Pat Roberts announced his retirement in Manhattan a few weeks after K-State football coach Bill Snyder did the same. Both are Kansas fixtures, both are close in age (Roberts is 82, while Snyder is 79), both have a lanky, silver-haired demeanor.

In both cases, eras are ending. And the future is uncertain.

While it would be a mistake to call Roberts a moderate Republican, he came from a tradition of pragmatic conservatives best exemplified by former Sen. Bob Dole. He was interested in and invested in legislating, believing that the process mattered.

Roberts’ successors in the Republican Party (and many in the Democratic Party, too) are fixated scoring rhetorical points and grandstanding to their bases. But showy new conferences and viral video clips don’t get legislation passes. A nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic does.

In his career, Roberts showed a single-minded dedication to Kansas, particularly to agriculture. He came to Washington, D.C., in 1967, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980 and came to the Senate in 1996. He has been the only member to serve as chairman of agriculture committee in both houses.

He most recently shepherded passage of a bipartisan farm bill. While ideologues in the House attempted to attach draconian work requirement to food aid, Roberts stood firm on the Senate version. Following the election, it passed. It was a great example of how legislating is supposed to work — both sides notch some wins, while both sides take some hits.

More fundamentally, Roberts understood that a big bill forged from hard-fought compromise was not the place for attacks on the poor.

But as we laud Roberts — and Snyder, for that matter — it’s difficult not to think about what comes next. Politics has replaced sports for enthusiasts in this hyper-partisan era, and the question of succession will dominate Kansas politics for the next year-plus.

Will Kansans select another pragmatic, low-key, approachable voice? Or will they be tempted by the fiery exhortations of demagogues? Will they follow a familiar, successful path? Or will they follow a road of exaggerated promises and divisiveness?

Roberts had the opportunity to speak more forcefully against these trends in politics, but he largely chose to avoid the subject. Perhaps in his final two years in office, he will find his voice.

 

GateHouse Kansas