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Former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Of Kansas On Observing 'A Different Era Of Politics'

senator_nancy_kassebaum_s_retirement_party.jpg
Laura Patterson
/
Wikimedia Commons
Senator Nancy Kassebaum (center) with guests at her retirement party in 1996 including (left to right) senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, Barbara Mikulski, Carol Moseley-Braun and Sheila Frahm

From her home in Kansas' Flint Hills, Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum reads news about politics (in paper form, "I don't do e-mail ... Facebook")  with a touch of sadness. 

"We have to find ways to come together," she told Steve Kraske on KCUR's Up To Date

Known as a voice of reason during her 18 years as a senator, Kassebaum left public life in 1997. Twenty years later, she says politics have fundamentally changed and she's not sure she'd make it out of a Republican Primary if she ran today.

"I'm not going to test it," she says. 

Last fall, during an appearance at the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, she made it clear that she wasn’t a big fan of candidate Donald Trump. 

She didn't vote for him, she says. Now, she's watching the first weeks of his presidency with concern. 

"It just looks like turmoil," Kassebaum says. Trump's attitude towards the media and his insistence on bringing up his electoral votes at every opportunity confuse her.

"Who cares about that right now? There are very important issues he needs to address," she says. 

One of those issues is immigration. Kassebaum says there are many people who want immigration reform, but finding a solution takes time and thought.  She calls Trump's immigration ban "carelessly handled." 

Particularly troubling to her is the country's image abroad.

"I think we can deal with things at home ... but looking at it from abroad ... it's not a level of what I would hope for leadership for our country right now," Kassebaum says. "I worry about Pakistan, I worry about the thought that maybe we're going to support a one-state in Israel," she said. 

And it doesn't help that Republicans and Democrats refuse to break with their own parties. 

"If everyone is going to get in lock-step, one side or the other, we're aren't going to accomplish anything," she says. 

That's true even on a local level. Kassebaum says in the last few years she's seen Topeka become more polarized, but she thinks that's changing now. 

She says she was pleased to see a tax bill pass out of the legislature Friday with support from both parties, even if Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback refuses to sign it into law. 

She's is also satisfied with the progress women have made being elected to office. Kassebaum was the first woman ever elected to a full term in the Senate without her husband having previously served in Congress. 

"I'm glad because it's no longer a big deal," she says.

Another reason to smile? The quiet of the Kansas prairie.

"The only sounds I hear are the coyotes at night or the wind ... I do love it," she says. 

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and a reporter for KCUR 89.3 Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.