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'Icon of Kansas History' dies

CONCORDIA (MCT) -- This past Monday, two of Kansas' longest-serving political leaders -- Ross Doyen and Bob Dole -- spent about 10 minutes talking privately at Doyen's home in Concordia.
Dole was visiting the area and "wanted to come by and talk to Ross, wanted to talk to Ross alone," said State Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia.
Doyen, who represented north-central Kansas in the legislature for a total of 34 years starting in 1959 and holds the record as the longest-serving president of the Senate, died Thursday at the age of 87.
Chaput-Buoy Funeral Home in Concordia is in charge of funeral arrangements, and no funeral date had been set as of Friday evening.
"He was an icon of Kansas history," Bowers said Friday. "He asked me nine years ago to run for the House, and I said no, because I didn't have any political experience. I told him I was a wife, a mother and a business owner -- and he said 'Perfect! I'll be your campaign manager.' "
Calls and visits
Over the past few weeks, word that Doyen was in bad health spread, and he received several calls and visits.
"Gov. Sam Brownback called Ross, and Sen. Pat Roberts called Ross, both just in the past few days, and those calls meant a lot to him," Bowers said.
And even though Doyen had been out of the Legislature since 1993, former House Speaker Melvin Neufeld (R-Ingalls) said his opinion and advice were still respected.
"About a month ago, a group of lobbyists heard he was sick and stopped by to talk with him," Neufeld said.
Neufeld recalled that when he first ran for the House in 1984, Doyen tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to run for a Senate seat instead.
"After the election, the guy who won that Senate seat voted against Ross, and he lost being Senate president by one vote," Neufeld said. "I apologized, and he told me it wasn't my fault."
Neufeld said he learned a lot about the political process -- how to get things done -- from Doyen.
"He understood the political system really well," Neufeld said. "For instance, if you have an issue you really want, and there's somebody who wants to get even with you, get somebody else to carry it. He told me once to stay out of one issue -- maybe even to vote against it -- until he could see if the governor would veto it if my name was attached to it."
Through much of Doyen's time in the Legislature, neither Republicans nor Democrats held overwhelming majorities, leading to a different way of doing business.
"The balance between Repubicans and Democrats in the Senate was closer, maybe 18 to 22 instead of what we have now," Neufeld said; today, 8 of 40 state senators are Democrats.
But parties didn't matter quite as much back then, either, said Sen. Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka). In 2012, Hensley broke Doyen's record as the state's longest serving legislator, and currently serves as Senate minority leader.
Cowboys vs. city-slickers
"When Sen. Doyen was in the Legislature, there was a great deal more back-and-forth -- less of a partisan divide," Hensley said. "It was more of an urban-rural divide -- kind of cowboys vs. city-slickers, and Sen. Doyen definitely fell on the side of the cowboys."
"He was a really strong voice for rural Kansas and for agriculture in Kansas," Hensley said. "He had a reputation for being pretty hard-nosed and a tough negotiator."
"Ross believed, his style was, we're going to work together," Neufeld said, "and if you work with me, I'll work with you. He had a good chunk of the Democratic caucus on his side -- they were conservative Democrats."
At the same time, Neufeld said, "If you dumped on him, you were likely to pay for it some point down the road -- he wasn't vicious, but you'd pay."
Doyen also had a reputation for working on behalf of his constituents.
"One thing I recall, is Sen. Doyen had a constituent who won a rather large prize in the lottery," Hensley said. "But he'd lost the ticket. Sen. Hensley went to bat for him and tried for a couple of sessions to get it resolved. I don't think it ever was resolved -- but it wasn't for lack of effort."
-- Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by email at mstrand@salina.com.
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(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)