Historic Tidbit: It’s not unusual for a politician to call his rival a “chicken” or to vow to make him a “dead-duck,” but attacking him on “dead chickens” was something out of the ordinary. But that did indeed happen in a 1974 Senate race. Secretary of State Richard Stone surprised many by making it into the Democratic runoff and as a Jewish pol based in Miami (before it became known as the “Borsch Belt,” was a huge underdog against Congressman Bill Gunter in the re. But Stone attacked Gunter for backing a bill by Mississippi Senator James Eastland that would compensate farmers whose chickens had been poisoned. It was effective. Stone was able to assemble his Miami base with support from north Florida, and win the runoff 51-49%. He won the seat in November. Six years later, Gunter sought a rematch, and beat Stone in the primary, only to lose in November to Paula Hawkins.
Alf Landon with Al Smith (EBay)
By the mid 1960’s, the rites of passage put the Kansas Republican Party firmly in the hands of Bob Dole, and the state’s senior Senator, Jim Pearson. But until that time, the party had been controlled by disciples of Alf Landon, the venerable Kansan and losing Presidential candidate to FDR by a record margin, but who at home was, for practical purposes “Mr. Kansas.”
Landon would actually outlive many of the folks he would mentee, including it’s two Senators and successors as Governor, Andrew Schoeppel and Frank Carlson. Though the duo would serve in the upper chamber together for more than a decade, Schoeppel and Carlson went their separate ays on issues such as McCarthy and even Presidential candidates. But their’s is a story of remarkable Kansas pride which isn’t emulated in every state.
Schoeppel was a World War 1 vet who graduated law school before putting his hand in local politics, including a stint as Mayor of Ness City and chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission.
By 1942, he wanted to become Governor and he’d have Landon’s full backing, despite the fact that he was little known. He’d win two terms. But as the Kansas Historical Society reported, Schoeppel’s relationship with the State Legislature was virtually non-existent. And Schoeppel got into tussles with the federal government, who charged that he did not enforce the laws of Prohibition, even after raids on liquor stores. He often sided with business over labor, barring “sit-down” strikes.
Around the time Schoeppel’s term had ended, he and Landon had drifted. While Landon was viewed as the titular head of the Kansas GOP long after the ’36 debacle, Schoeppel tried to change that by challenging the state’s longtime Senator, Arthur Capper. Landon loyalists stuck with Capper, but Schoeppel forces changed the rules. In the end, Capper retired and Schoeppel won the nomination and Landon was relegated to a low-level status in the current affairs of his party.
Schoeppel won three terms as Senator with similar margins (between 54 and 56%). His record was somewhat right of center, something that was evident by his championing of Robert Taft to be the party’s standard bearer as opposed to Eisenhower. He opposed McCarthy’s censure.
If Schoeppel would stray a bit, Carlson would remain loyal. He was a legend. On his death, the AP called Carlson, “a homespun farmer whose unassuming manner and close rapport with ordinary people carried him to 13 elections in 13 tries.”
And before Sam Brownback in 2010, he’d be the only Kansan to serve as Congressman, Governor, and Senator. Not that Carlson wanted it that way. Born to Swedish immigrants in 1893, Carlson was a Concordia, Kansas farmer who was doing his chores in 1928 when some friends approached him about running for the Legislature. He hesitated, not wanting to spend time away from the farm. “You won’t win anyway,” one said. And his supporters had stickers that said,”I’d rather be farming.” But win he did.
Katherine O’Loughlin McCarthy, Whom Carlson unseated for Congress (Kansas Historic Society)
Carlson then became Alf Landon’s campaign chair for Governor of Kansas in 1932. It was a successful endeavor, which was remarkable considering FDR was sweeping the state and Kansas was electing a Democratic Senator for the last time.
By 1934, it was Carlson’s turn to go to Congress and he again went against the grain. Republicans were taking a bloodbath at all levels but Carlson unseated an incumbent, Katherine O’Loughlin McCarthy by about 2,000 votes.
Shortly thereafter, Landon would declare for President and Carlson would serve as his campaign chair. It was another historic Republican loss, as Landon would be beaten soundly in his own state, and every state but Maine and Vermont (“as Maine goes, so goes Vermont”). But Carlson held onto his seat 52%-48%. His next three elections were non-affairs.
By 1946, Schoeppel had served two terms as Governor and Carlson was ready to succeed him. With Landon’s help, he secured the GOP nomination and took the job with 53%.
If Schoeppel was considered a weak, if not pugnacious Governor, Carlson was quite forward looking, and one who was well liked (Dole would say years later he “didn’t have an enemy in the world”).
He championed improvements of mental health projects, highway construction, rural health programs, and workman’s comp.
The Kansas Historical Foundation wrote in Carlson’s bio that “prior to Carlson’s administration, Kansas had been rated 40th place nationally in terms of the condition of its mental hospitals. By the summer of 1950, (it) jumped to 11th place.’
Carlson also took a hands-off approach when it came to prohibition, which was removed when he was Governor. Calling himself “a teetotaler,” Carlson said he doesn’t “smoke or drink.” But I have no quarrel with those who do. I’m a great believer in letting the people decide,” It would have been interesting to see where he stood on the pressing social issues of the day.
Carlson was elected to the Senate in 1950, just as his Governorship was ending. Immediately, he became a major footnote to national politics. He was an early backer of Eisenhower, who grew up in Kansas, and was one of his confidantes and strategists in the battle for the GOP nomination in 1952 against Ohio Senator Bob Taft, whom Schoeppel was supporting. Eisenhower won of course and Carlson reaped the benefits with access.
Which led Carlson to a footnote on another matter. One day early in his Presidency, Eisenhower had confided in Carlson that “the White House is “the loneliest house I have ever been in.” He asked Carlson for advice. Carlson responded by inviting Ike to the prayer breakfast. From then on, it became a tradition for the President to attend the breakfast every year. That may qualify Carlson as a Founding Father of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
On other matters, Carlson gained respect. Master of the Senate by Robert Caro called him “the administration’s spokesman on postal matters.” He served on the Committee investigating Joe McCarthy and joined 21 other GOP colleagues in voting to censure him (Schoeppel was among those who opposed it). He helped guide the income tax withholding system to passage.
But civil rights was a major concern for Carlson and he not only backed the legislation but also Title IV, which would bar gender discrimination. A year later, he’d become the only member of the Kansas delegation to back the Medicare bill. He also backed the Peace Corps.
Kansas historian Ross Dayer said Carlson could do,”the right thing at the right time so people thought a lot of him. But for us, the best thing about him was that he never forgot where he came from. That was evident by a Carlson statement, “there are no self-made men. It is your friends who make you what you are.”
In the book, Unlimited Partners that Dole wrote with his wife, he referred to Carlson as “an authentic Kansas institution. He was also the rarest breed of political animal, one who by, refusing power and popularity assures him of both.” On his death, “Another giant in Kansas politics is gone.” He called him “a friend, an adviser and a role model. He wrote the book when it came to class.”
Schoeppel died suddenly in 1962 at 67 and was succeeded by Jim Pearson, a loyal Republican but one who would not hesitate to go his own way. At times, conservatives openly spoke of a primary challenge to him, but never followed through, and Pearson’s electoral campaigns prior to his 1978 retirement were uneventful.
< Jim Peason succeeded Schoeppel (Wiki)
Carlson declined to seek re-election in 1968 at 75, but not before haing his name placed in nomination as a”favorite-son” candidate at the 1968 GOP convention. and was succeeded by Dole, who had to defeat yet another former Governor, Bill Avery, to win the GOP nomination. Carlson died in May 1987, at which time Landon was still living (he called Carlson “an outstanding Kansan, a faithful, and dedicate public servant”).
Nine years earlier, Landon had seen his daughter, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, win Pearson’s Senate seat, and that September, he celebrated his 100th birthday. Other than Strom Thurmond, who did not carry the banner for a major political party, Landon would live longer than any Presidential nominee. When he had turned 95, Reagan asked him if he wanted to visit the White House on his 100th birthday. But as he began fading, the offer was scaled down to his 97th birthday. Landon replied, ‘I’ll go both.”