Remembering Jack Kemp, The “Happy Warrior”


I have been reading and watching news reports about the untimely passing of former Congressman and pro football great Jack Kemp for the past week. He’s received so much mostly favorable coverage that I felt compelled to share my own experiences.

All that coverage has indeed been richly earned. If ever a politician deserved the nickname “Happy Warrior”, it was Jack Kemp. Just typing his name brings a smile to my face.

I first interviewed the Congressman at the 1984 Republican convention in Dallas, where he was scheduled to speak in support of nominating Ronald Reagan to a second term as President. Eager for a one-on-one for CBS News Radio before the speech, I found his hotel room number and knocked on his door.

His not-so-pleased wife Joanne, who answered the door, said he was not available. But Jack being Jack, he heard my request, jumped up and said sure. “Let’s just do the interview in the hallway.” I had the opportunity to interview him many more times over the next 25 years. He was always gracious, enthusiastic, and most of all incredibly bright and convincing.

I need not spell out what so many others have said over the past week about how he was the spark behind the Reagan revolution. He sold Reagan on the concept that tax cuts could spur economic growth.

But my experience was much more personal. The picture above documents my last visit with Jack a few years back. I was moderating a panel of experts on the need for affordable housing, one of his pet projects. In that picture and on the panel was Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing (as was Kemp), and Kent Colton, former head of the National Association of Home Builders.

Jacks unscripted remarks spoke to the need for the fortunate to help the less fortunate find shelter. And he spelled out reasons why it was good for America. It was Kemp at his best, being the lone “bleeding heart conservative” in the Republican Party. Now his party is out of power and out of ideas. He is needed more than ever. Let’s hope his dream of making the Republican Party inclusive for all Americans does not die with him.

He fought the good fight with charm and humility. That’s why the quote I love best of all the eulogies printed this past week is this one.

“Pro football gave me a good perspective. When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy.”

Jack Kemp always had a game plan, and a sense of humor. When he got sacked, he jumped right back up and called another play. I wish more of today’s self-serving politicians would take a page from his playbook.

(Brian Banmiller is a national Business reporter for CBS News Radio, writer and public speaker. The former television business news anchor in San Francisco can be reached at .)

This article originally published on May 8, 2009.

Brian Banmiller

About Brian

CBS News Radio national business journalist Brian Banmiller has spent more than 40 years in the news industry, covering business, politics and the economy on television, radio and in print. Currently, his “Banmiller on Business” reports are delivered to an audience of millions nationwide.

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