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Sherman Says: Jack Kemp’s legacy inspires Republicans

BUFFALO — The name of one of the best-known individuals ever to serve the people of Western New York has suddenly begun to surface with regularity, as mid-term elections draw closer.

Just two weeks ago, the New York Times published an article titled, “Note to Republicans: Channel Jack Kemp.”

The nine-term congressman who seemed to be in every Buffalo neighborhood at the drop of a hat waged a brief campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1987. When he dropped out of the race, he was the first GOP candidate to endorse George H.W. Bush for the White House.

Kemp was Bob Dole’s choice for vice president, in his unsuccessful race against incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996. He died in 2009.

Earlier in life, Kemp was a seven-time American Football League All-Star, while quarterbacking for the Buffalo Bills.

It’s amazing that some of Kemp’s ideology still waits in the wings for eager Republicans – and Conservatives – to embrace.

Sam Tanenhaus’ article in the Times connects Kemp to a number of youthful Republican ringleaders, including Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. It’s as if Kemp was still among us, his mop of gray hair rivaling that of Donald Trump.

“Perhaps the most surprising Kemp acolyte, given his anti-establishment persona, is Senator Rand Paul, Republican, of Kentucky. Mr. Paul has updated Kemp’s most famous idea, ‘urban enterprise zones,’ which were intended to entice businesses into struggling inner cities,” wrote Tanenhaus.

The timing of a nostalgic Kemp resurgence could be problematic, according to the Times.

“It might seem a curious moment for a Jack Kemp revival. Many remember him as an evangelist for supply-side economics and its drastic tax cutting – exactly the approach some Republicans say needs to be replaced with a fresh agenda that grapples with joblessness and stagnant wages,” continued Tanenhaus.

What the national Republican hierarchy is aching for is a leader, someone who can pull together the many factions that limit its ability to control much more than the House of Representatives. Numerous Democrats, on the other hand, are falling over each other to gain an early foothold in the war to win the presidential nomination in 2016. The GOP needs to establish a platform that will resonate with average Americans, before it chooses its next presidential candidate.

And that’s where Kemp comes in. He wasn’t just an ex-football player. His swagger, confidence and charm were contagious and his playbook contained solid chapters on economics and racial justice.

In fact, Ryan worked for Kemp’s own Empower America group, two decades ago. There is a legacy here that Republicans would be wise to revisit.

Paul recently said, “Kemp stood for the idea that the American dream was within every American’s reach, but pro-growth policies are necessary to get the government out of the way.”

I can hear President Ronald Reagan using the same language to connect with middle class Americans, eager for answers in an era when “hope” has left many of them disappointed and disillusioned.

“Now, long after his retirement from elected politics and five years after his death, Kemp is enjoying a revival, with tributes and name-checks from Republicans who believe that the party must broaden its appeal, notably among the young, women, Hispanics, blacks and other voter blocs who suspect that the American Dream may be a mirage,” said an article in the April 14 edition of The Economist. It also noted that Ryan has been spending time deep in Kemp territory, visiting church-run anti-poverty agencies in minority neighborhoods.

This should be a year to analyze where the country is headed. We should not be pacified into thinking we can wait two years to pay attention to this critical issue. All concerned Americans should seize the moment.

David Hoppe, a former Kemp aide, quoted one of the congressman’s favorite dictums: “Jack used to say, ‘If we have better ideas, we will win.’”

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at


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