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Eagle editorial: Roberts invited criticism

  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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It’s been an open secret in Kansas that Pat Roberts doesn’t really live in Dodge City, where he owns a property leased to tenants. But the state’s senior senator invited criticism with his recent residency switch to a house owned by campaign donors.

A New York Times article reported that Roberts, who lives in Alexandria, Va., is now listed on voter-registration rolls as residing in a home owned by longtime Dodge City supporters and donors C. Duane and Phyllis Ross. Roberts pays $300 a month and has stayed there a few times since October.

“I have full access to the recliner,” Roberts told the Times – in a joke as ill-advised as the senator’s gambit of changing his voting address just as tea partier Milton Wolf began his GOP primary challenge of Roberts.

Roberts made matters worse this week when his staff researched and then declined to release information on how much time the senator has spent in Kansas in recent years. According to the Times, he visited 72 of Kansas’105 counties in the past year, some of them repeatedly.

But “we’re worried about what the yardstick is,” Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Little told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. “Who defines how much is enough days in the state?”

That would be Kansans, who know Roberts very well by now and have repeatedly voted for him by wide margins. He can and should defend himself against those who’d argue he is out of touch with the state he’s represented on Capitol Hill for 33 years.

Few Kansans measured Bob Dole’s effectiveness as a senator by how many nights he slept in his house in Russell, or would have traded Dole’s stature and influence in the Senate for a more visible residency back home.

The reality is that it can be burdensome and costly for lawmakers to travel long distances to get from their home districts or states to Washington, D.C. Sen. Jerry Moran relocated from Hays to Manhattan in 2012, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp bought a home in Hutchinson and reportedly is rarely seen in his hometown of Fowler.

It also can be argued that current lawmakers’ reluctance to move their families has fostered gridlock, because politicians are always catching flights rather than building bipartisan working relationships with one another.

The Times said Roberts “is now desperate to re-establish ties to Kansas and to adjust his politics to fit the rise of the right in the state.” But it’s hard to imagine any Kansas Republican, let alone an unknown and underfunded Johnson County radiologist with extreme views, denying Roberts the fourth term he desires at age 77.

Roberts should have seen how ham-handed it would look to pass off a donors’ home as his residency, and now should release the details of his visits to the state. Kansas voters can handle the truth.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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