It was 1992. He’d already run for vice-president once, president twice and was laying the groundwork for the ’96 White House run in which he’d actually win his party’s nomination. His re-election that year to the U.S. Senate from Kansas was a mere formality.
Formality or not, Bob Dole always took care of Kansas.
As the political reporter for WIBW-TV in Topeka, I’d be fed a news release or two a week from Dole’s machine, touting some new manna from Washington.
A senior center in Muscotah.
Rural water infrastructure in Lincoln County.
A freeway interchange in Overland Park.
All this government spending was coming to Kansas in September and October of an election year? Just coincidence? I knew there was a story here. So I started watching for something close to home... and something visual.
New helicopters for the Air National Guard at Forbes Field in Topeka.
After I collected about a dozen announcements I had the outline of a TV news story.
Dole on the ballot. Dole engineers largesse. Draw your own conclusions on timing.
The actual TV news report itself was predictable:
1. Graphically scroll the individual projects across the screen.
2. He said (a soundbite from Dole’s Kansas spokesperson du jour):
“Senator Dole considers it a vital component of his public service, yada, yada, yada...”
3. She said (a soundbite from an officer with the Kansas ANG):
“We’re thrilled to get these new helicopters... they’re essential in maintaining our readiness blah, blah, blah...”
4. B-roll of the new helicopters taking off and landing from Forbes.
It was the on-screen tease ahead of my report that was to draw the attention of the Senior Senator from Kansas.
My colleague and WIBW-TV news anchor, Mary Loftus: “Coming up next on 13 News... Senator Dole’s up for re-election, and the federal money’s rolling back to Kansas. Coincidence? 13 News Statehouse reporter Mike Matson with the story... after this.”
While at the same time on screen... in a box... a close up video shot of one of the helicopter’s rotor blades. Wocka, wocka, wocka... these two words and this punctuation:
A couple of weeks later, Senator Dole actually graced us with his presence. He had long since gone national so his public appearances in Kansas were rare, compared to Sen. Kassebaum or the U.S. House delegation, whom we saw all the time.
To those of us in the Kansas-based news media, Dole was Dan Akroyd’s impression.
“Howdja like me ta come over there an' stick this pencil in yer neck?”
Dole’s schedule featured a “media avail” that afternoon at the Downtown Ramada. With pen clinched firmly in his right fist, Dole strides confidently up to the microphones, catches a glimpse of me in the assembled media hordes and frowns.
“Great,” I thought, wondering if I was gonna get a pencil stuck in my neck and if I could dig a hole in the hotel ballroom and climb in. “I’m done for.”
“Yeagghh...” The first syllable from Dole was always sort of a growled grunt. “Matson... (long pause) pork choppers. Pretty good. (enormous Dole grin) Heh, heh, heh.”
To think that a lowly punk television news reporter from Topeka, Kansas was going to rattle him.
Pork back home in an election year? That's how it's done, son. He ate guys like me for breakfast.
You know it. I know it. And the American people know it.