Jack Kemp never gave up, and his storied determination was never more apparent than in his advocacy for voting rights for the people of Washington. With his passing, the District of Columbia has lost a true champion.
Mr. Kemp, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback who went on to serve in Congress and the Cabinet and to run for vice president on the 1996 Republican ticket, died Saturday at 73. He is perhaps best known for his fervent advancement of tax cuts as a way to promote economic growth, turning it into an enduring linchpin of his party.
The same passion was evident in his efforts to build support for D.C. voting rights. Here, alas, he was at odds with the majority in his party, but that did not discourage him: He made calls, attended bill markups and relentlessly lobbied Congress to pass bipartisan legislation giving the District a voting member in the House of Representatives while awarding another seat to the state next in line to get one, currently Utah. Some of his successes in this regard are legend, such as the time he changed the mind of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., even though Mr. Burton had already given a speech opposing the measure. After conferring with Mr. Kemp, Mr. Burton supported the bill. Mr. Kemp also recruited Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to the cause and convinced current GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele to support the effort.
The opposition of most Republicans to the voting rights bill pained Mr. Kemp. He saw it as part of a larger failure to reach out to blacks and other minorities and a betrayal of the GOP's legacy as the party of Lincoln. He was brutally blunt in framing the debate along the fault lines of race. Shameful, sad and worse, is how Mr. Kemp characterized the role of Republican leaders in killing the bill in 2006. Even as he was battling the cancer that killed him, Mr. Kemp was said to be working on behalf of the District, conferring with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D, volunteering the work of his firm and - still - trying to change minds.
- Washington Post
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