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Monday, April 21, 2014

Richard Taylor carried on Nation’s fight against liquor

By Beccy Tanner
The Wichita Eagle

Historians have called it the “100 years’ war,” for the way Kansans firmly held on to their beliefs and ideals about Prohibition.

It began in 1880, when Kansas ratified its constitution with an amendment forbidding the sale and production of intoxicating liquors, making Kansas the first state in the nation to pass such an amendment.

For many Kansans, the most colorful Kansan to champion Prohibition was Carry A. Nation. The Medicine Lodge woman smashed bars with hatchets and appeared on an international speech circuit at the turn of the 20th century identifying all she thought was evil in the world, such as liquor, tea and cigarettes. She spoke out about how liquor and cigarettes, especially, took their toll on families.

But there was one more Kansan who championed equally as hard for Prohibition: the Rev. Richard Taylor, who died last month at age 87. He was at the tail end of the 100 years’ war, but his determination was equally as passionate and fiery as Nation’s in the beginning of the movement.

He was a former mechanical engineer who would tell reporters he was more comfortable with diesel engines than with public policy. He grew up on a farm near Dwight and attended a one-room schoolhouse. When he was in fourth grade, he changed schools to Enterprise, and that’s when he met a second-grader named Mary Louise. In high school, he would drive her home from church on Sunday evenings in his Model T Ford. In 1948, he married her — and the couple remained married until her death in 1992.

Taylor later became a Methodist minister, and, in the early 1960s, was assigned churches in Salina and Concordia before taking over the University United Methodist Church in Wichita in 1966.

From 1971 to 1992, Taylor was a lobbyist in Topeka, fighting against liquor-by-the-drink, pari-mutuel racing and the lottery. He also opposed Indian casino gambling. He led Kansans for Life at its Best, the state’s largest temperance organization.

His wife, Mary, was a state and national officer of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a state leader in the United Methodist Church.

During his years as a lobbyist, Taylor became particularly outspoken against political action money funneled into the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, calling it “the damnation of this nation.”

“I have not objected to lobbyists and their biases,” he said. “The objection is the money, the money, the money. It’s the profit motive we’re up against. We don’t have a profit motive. If truth cannot win the battle, then we cannot.”

In 1992, after Taylor announced his retirement, Kathleen Sebelius, then a state representative from Topeka, told The Eagle that Taylor was actually about "a decade ahead of his era" in lobbying the Legislature. During the 1991 and 1992 sessions, Sebelius was then chairwoman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handled liquor and gambling issues.

Sebelius said Taylor’s basic argument was that his cause was morally right. She predicted Kansans would hear more of the same type of argument from conservatives and religious fundamentalists on various issues in the future.

“It was unique in the era that he served, because there was really no other debate conducted on that same level,” Sebelius said in 1992. “That was one of his real strengths, that he as an individual and as a messenger had a very unique position in this Capitol.”

Taylor championed more than just Prohibition.

In the years after his retirement, he became one of the state’s leading advocates for historic preservation of certain sites in Kansas, including the preservation of the old cage elevator in the state’s Capitol building, the Jayhawk Theatre and the Ritchie House, all in Topeka.

Kansas had prohibition from 1881 to 1948 — longer than any other state — and continued to prohibit on-premises liquor sales until 1986, when it legalized liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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