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If a politician clings to office too long, a couple of bad things can happen: The constituency can change and suddenly yank the comfy rug of incumbency out from under the politico, or the office holder can come unmoored from the home place and drift away from the constituency.
Both things have happened to Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who has been in Washington since 1967, first as a congressional staffer, then as a House member, and now as a three-term Senator. He’s an arch-conservative, but not arch enough for the far-out tea-party right-wingers who’ve taken over the Kansas GOP. Even worse than the change in the home base constituency, however, has been Roberts’ own absence from home base.
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It turns out that the senator from Kansas doesn’t actually… you know… live there. Instead, he and his wife have lived in a Washington suburb for years. While a house in Dodge City is listed as his official residence, it’s a rental property he owns, and he never lived in it. When Roberts does do an overnighter in the “home state,” he stays in hotels or with a couple of campaign donors whose home is on a country club golf course.
Now facing a far-right tea-party challenger, Roberts has not only skittered to get even more “righter” than the challenger, but he’s also scampering around the state as SuperKansan. He’s begun paying $300 a month for his room in that country club house and now list it as his official residence, and suddenly he’s everywhere, having visited 72 of the state’s 105 counties in the past year. No doubt he’ll be riding a wheat thresher, singing the state song, and wearing a straw hat with tea bags hanging from it before this election is over.
Who’s he fooling? If your political principles are that malleable and your sense of place is that mobile, you’re probably only representing yourself and shouldn’t be elected to anything.
“Lacking House, Senator Renews His Kansas Ties,” The New York Times, February 8, 2014.