Forgotten hero

Clausie Smith Enlarge photo

January 11, 2012

­Sometimes I like to look for a different perspective on history, and one of the best ways is to read a book that was written during the time that the event happened. Recently, I ran across a book at the Bonner Springs City Library in the Kansas section titled, “This Man Landon,” written in 1936 by Fredrick Palmer. At the time, Gov. Alf Landon was serving Kansas and was the Republican nominee for president. It certainly gave a favorable portrayal of the governor.

I’ll admit that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book. I know for sure that three men who were nominated for president visited Bonner Springs. The three known presidential visitors were William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey and Bob Dole. I found no information about President Eisenhower being in Bonner Springs. It seemed only logical that Gov. Landon, the 1936 GOP presidential candidate, would have visited here at one time or another, but I found no mention of a visit to Bonner Springs. What I did learn was that Gov. Landon did a great job and, yes, would have probably been a good president. I also found out that a lot of the issues he faced in the Depression and drought-ridden early 1930s weren’t much different than the challenges we face today.

In those days, the governor could serve only two terms in office and each term was two years. Nationally, the Republican Party was in tremendous disfavor since the public blamed the Depression on President Herbert Hoover and the GOP. Unemployment was about 20 percent and to make things worse, a tremendous drought had turned much of Kansas into a dust bowl. If that weren’t enough, Kansas was faced with a bond scandal. Gov. Landon did a great job in righting the state’s financial position and provided tremendous leadership at a tough time in history.

Some of his decisions showed great common sense. As part of the New Deal program it was suggested that a huge lake be built near Topeka. The governor opposed it because a lot of farmers would be displaced and he felt it was unnecessary.

It seems the ulterior motive was that it could be a refueling base for seaplanes crossing the United States. He was able to work with the New Deal in many other areas that benefited Kansas during the depth of the Depression.

Landon was an oilman and a lifelong Republican and had been involved in party politics before he sought office. The Republicans were virtually swept out of office everywhere, including in Kansas in 1930. Harry Woodring, a Democrat, was elected governor. Two years later, however, Landon defeated Woodring and the independent candidate, the discredited Dr. Brinkley of goat gland fame.

Landon’s most famous act was establishing a “pay-as-you-go” policy, or cash-basis law. This law is still the basis for Kansas’ financial operations.

In addition, he faced some difficult social issues including prohibition. The governor urged a vote on the issue and the anti-drinking forces won, making Kansas one of the last bastions of prohibition.

Despite major spending cuts, Gov. Landon remained popular. He easily won a second term with a 75,000 vote margin over Omar B. Ketchum. He was the only Republican governor to win election.

Landon completed his term and returned to private life, where he was recognized for his wisdom. He opposed the isolationists, who wanted to keep the United States from preparing for the coming World War II. He rejected a chance to serve on President Roosevelt’s Cabinet. He was 100 years old when he died in 1987, leaving a legacy of leadership and good government to the people of Kansas.

No, I was unable to find that Landon ever visited Bonner Springs. But I learned about a great leader and Kansan.

Originally published at: