Fending off persistent questions about his residency status, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) noted in a radio interview last week that “my kids went to school” in Dodge City, Kansas, as a means of demonstrating his ties to the state he represents roughly 1,400 miles away in Washington, D.C.
But a close inspection of that claim shows his children only attended school there for about three months, and attended and graduated from high school in Alexandria, Virginia, although they later attended college in Kansas.
“We have declared Dodge [City] our residency; our kids went to school there. Every time I get an opponent, uh, I mean every time I get a chance, I’m home,” Roberts said. “I don’t measure my record with regards as a senator with how many times I sleep wherever it is.”
Roberts’ accidental claim he goes home to Kansas “every time I get an opponent” was an unfortunate slip of the tongue that his primary opponent, President Obama’s cousin, Dr. Milton Wolf, has seized on as a kind of Freudian slip.
But the claim about his children’s schooling has received less attention.
Roberts and his wife Franki have three children: David, Margaret Ashleigh and Anne Wesley. Yearbook records published by classmates.com show that Roberts’ children went to school mostly in Alexandria, Virginia.
In the 1988 yearbook for West Potomac High School, at the top of page 174 three photos from the outer margin is David’s picture. He was listed as a freshman in that year’s yearbook.
In the 1990 yearbook for that same northern Virginia high school, Margaret Ashleigh’s photograph–then a freshman herself–is the one closest to the margin on the fourth row down on page 182.
Roberts’ campaign manager Leroy Towns noted that when Roberts ran for the U.S. House in 1980, he moved his kids to Dodge City for a few months of school. After he was elected in November that year, he moved the kids back to the Washington, D.C., area where they stayed until college.
“Two of Senator Roberts’ children, David and Ashleigh, were in school in Dodge City in the fall of 1980,” Towns said in an email. “David was in the 3rd grade and Ashleigh started kindergarten there. Anne was too young for school. After the congressional campaign, the family made the decision they needed to be together near their father’s work, and the kids then attended school in Alexandria.”
In a followup email, Towns said that David had only attended a few months of school in Dodge City in 1980 after having completed his first two years in Alexandria, Virginia. “He started the third grade in Dodge after having been through the first two grades in Alexandria,” Towns said of David.
Towns pointed out, too, that each of Roberts’ kids went to college in Kansas, writing to Breitbart News that Margaret Ashleigh and Anne Wesley attended the University of Kansas and David attended Kansas State and Washburn. “So, yes, the kids attended school in Kansas,” he said.
Back in 1996, when Roberts first ran for the U.S. Senate after having served as a congressman since 1981 in Kansas’ First Congressional District, the Kansas City Star reported that Roberts faced questions then too about why he raised his family in the Washington, D.C., area instead of in Kansas.
“Roberts has been forced to defend his decision to raise his family in Alexandria, Va., instead of Dodge City,” the Star‘s James Kuhnhenn wrote on Oct. 20, 1996. “Though he owns a condominium in Dodge City that he sublets, he usually stays with his district manager, Phyllis Ross, and her husband during his visits.”
Kuhnhenn detailed in that piece how Roberts–after having grown up in Kansas then serving in the military–never really returned home to live in Kansas ever again.
Kuhnhenn wrote that “in 1962, after a tour in Okinawa, Roberts returned as a civilian ready to pick up the newspaper business”–but in Arizona, not in Kansas.
“He became co-owner of a weekly newspaper in the Phoenix suburbs, The Westsider,” Kuhnhenn wrote. “There he learned about local government – zoning boards, city councils, boards of education.”
Roberts was soon thereafter–around 1967–hired as an administrative assistant for Kansas Sen. Frank Carlson. “Roberts had been an intern for Carlson one summer while in college,” Kuhnhenn wrote. “But this would be different; he’d be running the whole show. When Carlson retired a year later, Roberts went to work for Rep. Keith Sebelius, the freshman Republican. It wasn’t long before Roberts married his Capitol Hill sweetheart, Franki, a South Carolina staffer in the office of Sen. Strom Thurmond.”
Rep. Keith Sebelius–a Republican who is the father-in-law of President Barack Obama’s now former Democratic Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius–employed Roberts as his top aide for 12 years, Kuhnhenn wrote.
“By 1977, friends and advisers were suggesting he get prepared to succeed his boss,” Kuhnhenn wrote. “He entertained an invitation to become editor of a Dodge City-based farm publication. The publisher offered to put him on a speaking circuit and build his name recognition throughout the district.”
Roberts then “bought property in Dodge City” in Kansas to establish residency in the district he never lived in before, Kuhnhenn wrote, “with the idea of building a house in town.”
“But Sebelius developed prostate cancer and decided to retire early,” Kuhnhenn wrote. “That scrambled the plans, but Roberts was ready.”
The criticism over Roberts’ residency comes as he is facing a conservative primary challenge from his primary challenger Wolf, a Tea Party activist and conservative media stalwart who has drawn fame from his familial connection to President Barack Obama. Wolf’s great-grandfather, Thomas Creekmore McMurry, was Obama’s great-great-grandfather. Obama’s mother Ann Dunham and Wolf’s mother were childhood friends in Wichita, Kansas.
Wolf has gained considerable momentum in recent months, though he still trails in the polls a month out from the election. He faced criticism from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) over insensitive X-ray photos he published from his medical career. While damaging to his Senate bid, the issue hasn’t taken him out of contention. Roberts told Politico in an interview published this week that he feels as though he may be the next GOP titan to lose re-election in the wake of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss.
Wolf has honed in on anti-political class anger across the country, especially in the wake of what happened in Mississippi’s GOP primary. While state Sen. Chris McDaniel is moving forward with a challenge of those election results on legal grounds, the political ramifications of the GOP establishment’s work on behalf of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)–including Roberts’ work for Cochran–are already coming to bear. Regardless of the legal implications of what Cochran and his allies did, many conservative voters are incensed that Cochran would have turned to liberal Democrats to get him through a GOP primary.
Wolf has seized on the GOP establishment’s backing of Cochran, saying that the NRSC’s work for the Mississippi political icon and for his opponent–work that Roberts’ Kansas colleague Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), the chairman of the NRSC, has pushed–will backfire.
“It is shocking that the NRSC diverted money intended by its donors to help Republicans win a majority in the Senate and instead was used to attack a conservative in a deep red state where the Democrats don’t have a chance,” Wolf said in a July 1 statement about how Moran would not condemn Cochran’s race-baiting tactics in Mississippi. “This is completely unacceptable, and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)’s admission that the NRSC is essentially an incumbent protection racket is exactly why conservatives all across America are rising up to defeat the Washington Establishment. The NRSC may exist to protect incumbents in the eyes of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), but on August 5th they will come up short, when I defeat 47-year Washington insider Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).”