News that Jack Kemp has passed away is personal to me. Kemp was a big part of my personal and professional life.
Many are familiar with his story. Success as a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills translated into becoming Congressman from Buffalo. He acquired a national reputation as a champion of tax cuts, enterprise zones and more freedom for all, including welfare recipients and people living in public housing projects. He called himself a “bleeding heart conservative” and was glad to carry a message of hope and change to black and Latino neighborhoods. He ran for President to succeed Reagan in 1988, became Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for the winner, President George H. W. Bush. Kemp was the candidate for Vice President when Bob Dole ran for President in 1996.
I wrote a paper on supply-side economics in a class at the University of Wisconsin in 1980, mentioning Kemp.
Kemp never called names. He was always positive, always glad to work with Democrats to solve problems. When I worked at Hillsdale College from 1982 to 1984, we used one of his quotes from a speech he delivered there in many campus publications.
When I was a candidate for U.S. Congress from Wisconsin in1984, I attended a National Republican Congressional Committee training seminar in Washington. Kemp was one of the speakers. His friend and star Chad Everett was with him.
I moved to Lansing in 1985 to be a policy advisor to the Michigan Senate Republicans. In the Michigan 1988 primary, I voted for Kemp for President. I was also elected a precinct delegate in Eaton County. The George Bush campaign counted me as a Bush delegate, but I was pledged to Kemp. The Eaton County Chairman was my friend Saul Anuzis, then chief of staff to the Kemplike Sen. Dick Posthumus.
I met the woman who would become my wife through a Jack Kemp fan club in 1993. Many of us thought Jack Kemp should be the Republican nominee for President in 1996 and that Elizabeth Dole, not Bob Dole, should be the candidate for VP. That would have been about attracting swing voters, not just mobilizing the base.
Although it is perfect hindsight, this would have been a pivotal moment for America. We might not be lamenting how far the Republicans have fallen. Had Kemp been President, hope and change would have been Republican ideas.