With the unrelenting talk about election fraud, I’ve decided now to clear my conscience and disclose that I voted twice for President in 1996. No, it wasn’t an act of voter fraud. As a delegate to the Republican convention that year, I voted to nominate Bob Dole as the Republican candidate. I voted for him again at my polling place in Whitefish in the general election.
Colin Powell, who I felt could have been a great and unifying President, was my first choice that year, but I was more than comfortable with Dole. My primary reason for that was a personal not a political one. A few years earlier, as a teacher at Flathead High School, I was the faculty sponsor of the Teen Age Republican Club when Dole was the keynote speaker at a Western States Republican Conference at the Outlaw Inn in Kalispell. As it turned out, his talk was scheduled for 4 p.m. so I was able to take about 15 of my students to the event after school.
When we arrived though, the large meeting room was packed. The staff told me that no more chairs were available. The students and I were lined up against the outer wall, disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to see the speaker. But then suddenly Dole himself appeared and approached the young people, offering his left hand and warmly greeting each one. (His right arm was largely paralyzed due to terrible wounds he suffered heroically rescuing a fellow soldier during WWII.) When he came to me, he told me that he wasn’t going to enter the meeting room until my students could, too. In a matter of minutes, hotel workers came scrambling on to the scene with chairs from other rooms, which they crammed into the ballroom, and the students quickly filed into them. Then Bob Dole, with his radiant smile, took the podium.
Dole was considered a possible presidential candidate at that time, and typical of the sardonic wit that for both good and ill became his trademark, he commented that some of his critics were saying that because he was the Republican National Chairman at the time of the Watergate burglary, he should be disqualified from running. Dole denied anything to do with Watergate, adding that, “I was doing another job up in Chicago that night.”
There are countless examples of his wry humor, but one that particularly stands out in my memory was when the earnest Jimmy Carter promised to the American people with his customary toothy smile, “I will never lie to you,” Dole wryly commented, “Gee, I thought every time he told a lie he grew another tooth.”
His first choice for the Republican nomination in 2016, was Jeb Bush, but loyal soldier that he was, he supported Trump in the general election that year. I was sorry to see him continue to support his party right or wrong in 2020. To his everlasting credit, however, Dole refused to buy Trump’s perpetual fraudulent lie that the election was stolen, and congratulated Biden on his victory.
In one of the last official acts of his long life, Dole returned to his native Kansas, and visited the common people in every one of the 105 mostly rural counties in the state, thanking them personally for the opportunity they had given him to serve.
A Republican to the end, Bob Dole was no demagogue and no danger to democracy. He will be remembered well, I think, in the annals of time.
Bob Brown is a former Republican Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President. He lives in Whitefish.
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