Roberts’ legacy: Longest congressional service in Kansas history

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Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ congressional career included eight farms bills and what he describes as success in improving national intelligence after the Iraq war. Roberts announced he won’t seek re-election in 2020.

Roberts spent 16 years in the U.S. house and has been in the senate for 22 years but faced some pressure to step aside in part because he will be 84 next year. Another senate run would keep him in office until he’s 90.

Born in Topeka on April 20, 1936, Roberts was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, a graduate of Kansas State University and a newspaper reporter before he decided to enter political service.

Roberts began his Capitol Hill career as an aide in 1967. He won a U.S. House seat representing western Kansas in 1980 and was elected to the Senate in 1996. He was noted for years of service on the Senate Intelligence and Agriculture Committees. One of his most notable recent accomplishments for his alma mater and the city of Manhattan was the relocation of the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility from Plum Island, New York, to the K-State campus.

Robert’s longevity became a liability during his 2014 campaign. In the last election, Roberts captured less than 50 percent of the vote in a four-person primary after a spirited challenge from tea party candidate Milton Wolf, a Kansas City-area radiologist. 

The Democratic nominee dropped out, giving stronger independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman, a cleaner shot at Roberts. The national GOP quickly retooled Roberts’ campaign.

Critics mocked him for claiming his home was in Dodge City, the iconic former Wild West town, even though he maintained a residence in the Washington area. Roberts hurt his re-election bid by joking that renting space in the home of two Dodge City supporters gave him full access to a recliner. He later bought a home in Topeka in 2016.

On Friday, he expressed gratitude for friends and supporters over decades in public life.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would become the longest serving member of congress in this state’s history,” Roberts said.

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