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Specter remembered by locals as 'outgoing, intelligent'

10/16/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- In a time where taking extreme political positions seemingly is becoming the norm, Arlen Specter will be remembered for looking for bipartisan solutions.

"He was very much a model of politics of a different time," said Chapman Rackaway, associate professor of political science at Fort Hays State University. "Today, politics is very highly-charged, it's very personal, it can be kind of negative.

"The public has made a shift, from wanting to see policy get done in a bipartisan fashion, to wanting to see people fight, so they don't have to compromise. What really made folks like Arlen Specter -- and Bob Dole, who lived in the same town -- what made their reputation was their ability to broker deals within their own party and across the aisle."

Specter, 82, died Sunday at his home in Philadelphia from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Although he was a Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania for 30 years, Specter remembered his Kansas -- and Russell -- roots, said Velma Beeman, a high school classmate who kept in touch through the years.

"I remember how much he thought of Russell as his hometown, only he was here six years," Beeman said.

Beeman's family moved from out in the country into town the same time Specter's family moved to Russell from Wichita, when he was 12. Together, they were the new kids in town and became friends.

"He was very outgoing, very easy to talk to," Beeman said. "He was well-liked by everyone. He was intelligent, needless to say. He was on the debate squad that won the state tournament while he was here."

Those debating skills served Specter well while in the Senate, where he would at times take positions unpopular with his caucus.

Specter drew the lasting ire of conservatives by helping end the Supreme Court hopes for former federal appeals Judge Robert H. Bork and the anger of women over his aggressive questioning of Anita Hill, a law professor who had accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. He even mounted a short-lived run for president in 1995, on a platform that warned his fellow Republicans of the "intolerant right."

"The Senate has never been this haven of real partisanship, at least not nearly as much as the House has been," Rackaway said. "You're able to buck your party a little bit more in the Senate and not have repercussions that will end up getting you out of office quickly. Elsewhere, you can't say that."

When Specter made it back to Russell for class reunions, he wanted to see the sights, and Beeman was his chauffeur.

"When he came home, he always wanted to reminisce," Beeman said. "He always wanted to see (Fort Hays State University), but don't take interstate; take the old highway.

"He always called me. I took him around, did what he wanted to do."

Beeman recalled Specter fondly.

"He was fun" she said. "He loved to tease people."

President Barack Obama ordered U.S. flags at the White House and other public buildings flown at half-staff today, the day of Specter's funeral.

"He thought an awful lot of Russell," Beeman said. "He never, ever forgot his life here."

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.