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Tip O'Neill: 'All politics is local'

Published on -10/5/2012, 10:24 AM

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Tip O'Neill's slogan may not apply to the extent it once did, given the deliberate infusion of national wedge issues into local politics, but it still applies.

One of the few races in western Kansas pits Allen Schmidt against Ralph Ostmeyer, both incumbents. Schmidt, redistricted into Ostmeyer's territory, will have to compete for votes. Ostmeyer is my good friend of many years, dating back to coaching days. He is a man of integrity. Schmidt I barely know, but he seems intelligent and principled.

On hot-button social issues, they are peas in the pod. Difference: Ralph, a little too accepting of Gov. Sam Brownback's fruitcake fiscal proposals which, if implemented, will result in elevated property and sales taxes. Schmidt, likelier to provide healthy resistance to that part of Brownback agenda. That's a big plus.

I wish we had learned more about John Miller of Norton. No, Miller isn't on the ballot, but could be a write in. He lost big time in the partisan primary for Senate District 40. That's likely because he was scared to challenge the noisy radical right, who masquerade under the once-respectable label "conservative." Hence, Miller was vilified as a dratted moderate -- like Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Dole and Arlen Specter.

Sad there's no challenger for U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp. In empathy with actual conservative Republicans, I could write in Marck Cobb of Galva. Cobb was the best candidate as a real Republican last time around, which probably explains why he lost. That, and the fact he refused out-of-district campaign contributions out of principle. An even better write-in would be Darrell Hamlin, who is part of the Center for Civic Leadership at FHSU. Hamlin would bring considered intelligence in contrast to Huelskamp's partisan bombast.

There's no contest in our District 118 for state representative, but a wee bit of redistricted 110 now lies a mile north of Bogue city limits. A a lonely tentacle -- 4 miles wide by 15 miles long north of U.S. Highway 24 -- now stretches from the Rooks County line across half of Graham County to encircle Hill City voters.

I know both candidates. Philip Martin doesn't have ubiquitous (your look-it-up word for the day) roadside signage from Anchorage to Zoflo Springs, Fla. (OK, OK, I'm exaggerating). Martin's last reported campaign coffers were about a third of his youthful, well-advertised opponent's.

What Martin does have is solid qualifications and practical experience. I hope that still counts for something these days when political success too often equates to money, lots of signage, and attack ads and emails.

Martin is a soft-spoken guy with a winning mix of humility, humor and common sense. That helps explain why he was elected to serve three successive terms on the Ellis City Council. More recently, he stepped in as city clerk. It's a pretty safe bet he understands budgeting and working with others to get things done.

He's no spring chicken. For Martin, that means a distinguishing touch of gray, thin on top -- no coiffured mop to add stage presence. But plenty of life smarts. He knows about ups and downs and the inevitable uncertainties and surprises the years inevitably bring.

In a word, he has wisdom. That doesn't come cheap or early.

I asked him what he did to earn his bread and butter. Began as an oil field contract pumper, then a sub-contractor, he said. I liked that. Maybe that's because I grew up in an oilfield worker family. I had to throw in that as a kid I worked for $1.39 per hour on a Cardwell single-stick pulling unit, fancied myself a speedy rod-wrencher. I was testing him.

He laughed, "I remember those rigs. They don't use rod wrenches anymore you know. Power tools." Martin's hands look like those of a man who has hoisted heavy things and actually broke a sweat.

He's working class, all right, but he's "eddicated," too: Pre-law degree in '72, master's in business in 2000 -- both at Fort Hays State University. For more than a decade, he taught interactive TV classes in business to students in China and also to students on FHSU campus.

I have just one minor quibble. Philip Martin says, "I want to be a representative, not a politician. If a politician is what you want, you should find one."

Historically, of course, the two words have not been mutually exclusive, nor should they be. I think Martin will illustrate the truth of that. He's a great choice.

Yeah, I like this guy.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net

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