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Dr. Bill Roy

Former congressman from Kansas who challenged Dole for his Senate seat in 1974 in Dole's closest battle.

Interviewed May 1, 1996


FL: Why did you decide to run against Dole? What did you know about him?

ROY:

I was far from an admirer of Bob Dole's I'll tell you that. He'd been around and he had been pretty much a hatchet man, both in Kansas, and as far as President Nixon was concerned. And so I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to take him out of politics, which I thought was very important at that time. There was great enthusiasm in Kansas, and among those with whom I worked, to win that campaign. And it was probably the most significant Senate campaign in Kansas history, both at the time, it was real nice, and retrospectively. Democrats did not win in Kansas. We've had one Democrat elected to the Senate in the history of the state. So this seemed like a special opportunity. And Dole was very partisan. He didn't give Democrats the time of day. So it was important for Democrats to feel tall.

Of course he had to carry the burden of Watergate. And he had chosen to during the six years from 1968 to 1974 to be the Senator from Richard Nixon rather than the Senator from Kansas. And I felt that very strongly and others felt that very strongly, that his personal ambition to be close to the President had made him neglect the interests of the people of the state.

FL: Let's tell the story of the campaign. It's been described by everybody as an especially ugly campaign.

ROY:

First of all, I resent it being called an ugly campaign on both sides. I think it was ugly on one side and one side only. And we overestimated what the people of Kansas knew or felt in the sense that Dole had a record for dirty campaigns. He was hatchet man for Nixon and he ran for dirty campaigns personally. We didn't think people wanted that. It wasn't what I wanted to do or what others in my campaign wanted to do. If there was anything dirty as far as my campaign was concerned, it was only because of his campaign. And we did not really effectively counteract the dirt he threw at us. One thing that I went through many times is, we were talking during the campaign is if you wrestle with a dog you're going to get muddy. In other words, you're going to be associated with a dirty campaign just because there are only two candidates in the campaign.

FL: Tell us the story about, the highlights of the campaign. Start at the critical moment of the debate, -- your expectations.

ROY:

It was in a small grandstand area where they'd had livestock judging. It probably held 3 to 4,000 people. It was a carnival atmosphere. People had on hats and there were signs and so forth. As carnival an atmosphere as you'll get in politics which is pretty raucous. And I had done exceptionally well. I had been up for the debate and of course I was able to hit him real hard early on about why he wanted to eliminate the Department of Agriculture. And this really had set him off and he was angry and very, very forward going through that. I don't know how to say it. You could feel Bob Dole's anger or I've even used the word, perhaps inadvisably, hate toward me. In other words, he was emanating very negative feelings toward me because obviously I was threatening his very life which was his political life. And so he had to do something and he grabbed for the abortion club at the end of the debate. I can't say I was totally surprised and I can't say that I didn't believe it was probably helpful to him in spite of the fact that 90% of the people in that arena booed, whistled, stamped their feet, thought it was a terribly mean, ugly and wrong thing for him to do. But he's playing to a very small audience of people who would vote on the abortion issue only.

FL: And what happened after the end of that debate?

ROY:

I felt quite high because I had done very, very well. And we went out to a place to eat dinner that evening. Some people were there including Al Hunt who's now with The Wall Street Journal, and others. And everybody was saying, "This race is over. You've got it won. There's no place he can go from here. He's defeated." Well, I knew better than that. While I was extremely pleased with the way that had gone, I knew we had a long, long ways to go.

FL: When did it become apparent that the issue as he raised it then had been effective?

ROY:

We knew it was a slumbering issue for a long, long time. Because I had a primary and in the primary a well-known Kansan, but not highly respected Kansan, a Democrat had used that in a few precincts and had beaten me in a few precincts even though I had gotten over 80% of the vote in the primary. So we knew that was a sleeping giant there. We, didn't know what to do with it. Because about 50% of our campaign workers were Roman Catholic and so forth. And it was something that we, I guess, drew back from in a sense. There wasn't anything we could do that could be very helpful. I had done a few legal abortions. I personally felt very strong about reproductive rights and the right of a woman to choose. I feel strongly about it to this day. Because I've walked into an emergency room and found a teenager dead, as white as the sheet, because she had bled to death following an illegal abortion. I'd seen women with infections and infertility because of illegal abortions. And so I felt very strongly about this issue on the side of the women's right. I didn't feel women should have forced pregnancies. Other [people] in my campaign, however, probably had a great deal of trouble dealing with it emotionally. Because they'd been taught by the Church and from childhood that it was taking a human life.

FL: When that came at you in that debate were you so surprised ....?

ROY:

I did not expect it during the debate. And there's no way to explain the issue of abortion in 15 seconds. And in that sense I felt I'd been clipped, I'd been hit from behind. But I think that was the extent of the emotion. Dole wasn't any more ugly, any more angry during the last 30 seconds of the debate than he had been during the 30 minutes of the debate. So in that sense it wasn't different than what had been coming at me as far as his emotions prior to that time.

FL: What did you notice about the way he was carrying himself, the way he was looking at you, the kinds of questions he was asking that his anger was building up to that explosive moment?

ROY:

Well, I felt that he was fumbling, that he would've like to run off the stage. That he was extremely displeased to find himself in that place at that time because he was doing very poorly. But he still had enough resources within to pick up an abortion club and go after me with that. My own reaction again, I was well prepared. As well as can possible as far as the abortion issue is concerned. But I reiterate in the sense that I did not know how to handle the abortion issue. I do not know how to say to a Roman Catholic, "Yes, I have done some legal abortions." Because to them, all abortions are morally illegal if one can use that sense. So, I have never known what we should have done as far as my speaking out on the issue of abortion. Pro-choice was not a term at that time. The abortion issue cut in one direction and one direction only. Those who were greatly opposed to abortion under any circumstances were going to go in the polls if they were reminded again, and again, and again, and not vote for Bob Dole but vote against Bill Roy.

FL: Prior to that moment, what were the signs of the way Dole held himself?

ROY:

In my many appearances, and there were quite a few with Bob Dole, I felt this emotion against me, which he held very strongly because I was a threat to his very being. To his political life, which was his only life. And at times I think this worked for him in the sense that I was uncomfortable under those circumstances. We're always uncomfortable when we're with someone who's angry, or almost angry, beyond control. So I was uncomfortable with him at various times under those circumstances. But as far as his attitude, his demeanor and so on, Bob is a blunt, brief, and then particularly mean, SOB under those circumstances. There just isn't any question about it. I think many people have seen him under those circumstances. I think since '74 and '76 he's brought some control to himself.

Bob had started out, you see, he had been in politics over 20 years at that time. He's started out in the early '50's in the legislature when he was in law school. So he'd done nothing else. He's been at the public teat all his life and he wasn't about to release that source of being and that source of satisfaction. He was totally dedicated to being a prominent politician. So I suspect he felt as threatened as he felt when he had to be in action in World War II. I think he was that strongly threatened. The weapons were words, and the weapons, such things as abortion, busing and so on.

FL: The people that are close to him say that his dreams of being a doctor and such, that you represented, in addition to taking away his livelihood, something else as well. Talk about that.

ROY:

Well, again, I can't evaluate his dreams to be a doctor. I really almost felt that that was a fleeting thing and he dragged that out in part for the 1974 campaign. I say that, for the reason that it has been recorded that he had done poorly in his first year and a half at KU and that one of the reasons that he went into the service at age 20, after a year and a half of college or so, was because he wasn't cutting the mustard in pre-med. So I don't think it was World War II that ended Bob Dole being a physician. I think it was pre-med at the University of Kansas in 1941-42.

FL: There were other ugly incidents in this campaign......

ROY:

Well, I didn't like being picketed and not being able to get into doors of places where I was going to speak and being called a baby killer. I didn't like that at all. And that was unquestionably orchestrated by the Dole campaign. And it made things difficult the last three weeks or so of the campaign. I didn't see myself that way. I'd been Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Francis Hospital. And to be seen as a pariah or an outcast is difficult. And that unquestionably takes its toll. One likes to ignore it, rise above it, work through it, etc. But it does take its toll. And the campaign for Bob Dole began at the State Fair with the public raising of the issue of abortion, and ended the weekend of the election with the windshield pamphlets showing babies in garbage pails and so forth. So I don't think there's any question in anyone's mind in the State of Kansas, including the senior Senator's mind, that he won that issue on the question of abortion. And I feel that I'm the one who cares, as far as women are concerned, and as far as children are concerned. Was then, and am now. Because I'd worked with women. I'd talked women out of abortions, I'd tried to find alternatives for women who thought they had an unwanted pregnancy that they wanted interrupted, so it is an emotional thing for me in that sense. I feel that I'm a moral, ethical, religious man. And to be accused of being something less than that is disturbing and, as I said, takes away from one's strength to some degree.

FL: Were there other incidents that led to this characterization of an "ugly" campaign?

ROY:

I think Bob really helped his campaign, rejuvenated his campaign to some degree, on "Face the Nation." The two of us were on as representatives of the campaigns that were going forth at that time, and sitting next to Bob, it's like you're sitting next to him and he's throwing acid at you. Now you don't want to respond, you don't want to debate on the ground of the person next to you, but he accused me of many, many things. Such as, "You made $250,000 as a practicing physician. You were a physician who was opposed to Medicare." I wasn't a physician who was opposed to Medicare but if he keeps making accusations of that kind, it's very difficult to say the things you want to say and at the same time counter those little things he wants to say towards you which are negative. And he brings them up and he's good at stating those things in 8 words or less, some of those things, particularly negative things. So I felt I didn't do well. I hate to use the word, I'm reminded of George Romney being brainwashed, I felt somewhat intimidated under some circumstances by the very strength of Dole's negative emotions toward me. I didn't want it to be that way, but it was that way. So I found the "Face the Nation" appearance difficult because of him doing things of that kind.

FL: There was another very negative ad campaign. Talk about that?

ROY:

Most of the ads, I didn't see. I've seen ads recently on television that I had never seen during the campaign because I was out campaigning. And they were negative ads by Richard Fatherly who was just jumping all over me. And the people who were watching the ads, commenting on the ads, said, "Oh, those are horrible ads." But one of them summed it up by saying, "I guess they're effective if they're not countered." We did not counter his ads. We did not counter the mud slinging ads. We went "quote" positive which means we talked only about how good I was supposed to be rather than how bad he was, the last two weeks. We didn't do anything even as far as hitting his record during the last two weeks. These are things I regret. And I think things had made a difference in a campaign where if one person out of a hundred had voted differently, the result would have been different. The mud slinging ad, I didn't see it. I know that our offices got calls. The one thing that I did personally resent greatly was an 8-page tabloid that was put out, of course with Bob's usual blatant play on his injuries and his war record, but in that, on about the fourth page or fifth page, facing pages, says "the only military term Bill Roy knows is AWOL." Well, I served two years honorably in the Air Force. I didn't get shot. But my service was as honorable as his service. Then on the next page it said, "Bill Roy had two votes he sided on veterans." But again, that was a very negative. "The only military term Bill Roy knows is AWOL." We had good Democrats that had been working at the VFW and the American Legion to get votes for me and they were calling the campaign headquarters around the state saying, "Hey, I can't do this guy any good if he was AWOL." So that is dirty, low, ugly, mean, lying politics. And it's not something unusual in a Dole campaign.

FL: I told you that we spoke with one of his aides who went back with him that night after the debate on the plane and it was a very dark night for him and he said that was a turning point for Dole and that he did feel that way.

ROY:

I don't separate the personal persona from the political persona. And if he was losing politically, he was losing personally. And if he was reacting sadly or if he was crushed to some degree by the debate it was because we had made a political statement about him which had been successful.

FL: Do you see any evidence in his career that that was a turning point?

ROY:

I think 1974, 1976 made a great deal of difference in Bob Dole's demeanor in politics. And I think it made him possible for him to be a Republican leader for 11 years. And I talked to friends who are in the United States Senate who said it was a chastened and humble Bob Dole who came back to the United States Senate. And no longer was he attacking Democrats personally for political statements in opposition to Richard Nixon for example.

FL: Describe the moment with Bob Dole where he came as close to an apology as possible. Set the scene. What he said, how you felt about what he said.

ROY:

Bob and I attended a funeral...'82 or '83. And after that funeral we found ourselves standing along near the church and I expressed admiration to Bob for some of the work he had done on the Finance Committee. And he said something in essence to the effect that, "Bill if I'm doing a better job, if I'm a better Senator, you should receive some credit for that because I found out in 1974 if I didn't clean up my act I wasn't going anywhere." Or words to that effect. And I had subsequently spoken to a number of Democratic Senators who said it was a different Bob Dole who came back after the 1974 campaign. He was much less partisan and he was much more pleasant, and he no longer was attacking them personally for being Democrats, and for making statements that were Democratic political statements on the floor of the Senate.

FL: You felt it was something of an apology?

ROY:

I never really thought of it as an apology. I did think of it as a new Bob Dole, if you please, with respect to him not holding a grudge and not continuing to be partisan vis a vis me as an individual or perhaps some others he had left in the background of his life. I wrote a column, I write a weekly column, and I wrote a column in essence saying, about the Dole Nixon relationship, and saying I don't think Dole is a long term hater. In other words, Richard Nixon was. I think that difference is there. I think they have similar emotions to an extent but I think Bob forgets and forgives after a given period of time and particularly if you're no longer threatening to him.

FL: The war wound.

ROY:

Ah, the war wound. It was a tragic thing to happen to a vigorous young man. And he undoubtedly fought his way back, and he undoubtedly is aware of it every morning when he gets dressed, etc., etc. However he has never been bashful about using it as a political issue to go forward and I have been very disappointed to see in the national press that he was shy, private and so forth about it, because he's waved it back and forth as a flag of "why you should support me because I gave part of myself, a very significant part of myself to defend the nation."

FL: Do you think he has any legislative triumphs?

ROY:

His record, of course, we researched from 1960 to 1974 and it was sort of a clean blackboard as far as his record was concerned. He voted 95-98% of the time. He almost always voted No, and he opposed the Great Society of Johnson. As I said, he opposed almost all people programs. He voted consistently for the military and consistently to favor the high kabobs of the Republican Party which are still people who were involved with railroads, banks and things which were not favorable to a farmer in Western Kansas. So his record is very, very negative during that period. Has continued to be negative since. You'll find him in small minorities voting No, No and No, but he rarely puts any bells and whistles on those No votes. He sort of votes No, gets his 100% ranking from the American Conservative Union and sneaks away from the damage that those votes might cause him.

FL: Walking away from that campaign, what was it that hurt the most?

ROY:

It hurt for my integrity as a physician to be called into question. It hurt to a great degree because physicians opposed me because while they were pocketing the money of Medicare and Medicaid, they didn't want the government to have anything to do with medicine. I'd worked hard on the National Health Service Corp. to get physicians into rural, under-served areas. I'd worked hard on health planning to get rid of the duplication of hospitals and so on. And they used that as a negative. So I didn't like being torn down as a physician. I didn't like to be torn down personally for trying to serve people better by giving them a choice, a reproductive choice. I have to say though, the thing that's always helped me as far as politics is concerned is that Topeka has a majority Republican registration, and I've always carried that town overwhelmingly and that's personally reassuring. And that's sort of a hook that I grab as far as being morose about the people who know me best.

FL:

And what will it take before you put that race behind you?

ROY:

As I indicated, I think there was a numbness. I think Jane and I and our family did not grieve. Now, maybe one needs to grieve after losing that kind of a race. But I don't think there was a grieving process. And I probably feel worse in 1996 about that race than I felt in 1975. I feel responsible in part for the way history has turned and for the fact that Bob Dole might be President of the United States.

FL:

That was considered one of his great victories and the turning point that came out of your campaign. Connect it with that.

ROY:

Bob Dole says, of course, that he's now one of those persons who doesn't think government can do good things for poor people or people who are disadvantaged. And, but he has very little to show for that. The Food Stamp program is one thing that he can claim a role in. He worked with Senator George McGovern on that. But it was a natural. It was a cheapie in the sense that it was an agricultural program to get rid of excess agricultural products, milk, cheese and so forth. And it was something that had to please Kansans and it was something that was very easy for him to do.

FL:

Still had good effects.

ROY:

Still had good effects. It's a big, big program. I think it's exceeded $20 million. I think it's program that's probably been abused, trading food stamps for other items and so on. I have nothing against the Food Stamp Program. I have nothing against Bob for putting it in there. But as I said, it was a natural. And it was also his way, perhaps, of reaching out to the other side of the aisle which he had formerly hit over the head pretty hard. But one can change directions in politics. And Bob, I think, did change directions in 1975 and I think the Food Stamp Program is part of it.

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