Bob Dole’s Predecessor: Wint Smith

Wint Smith - Wikipedia

The great Bob Dole died on December 5th, and you can read my piece on him at my new Substack, mikeholme.substack.com. However, today I will tell the story of his predecessor, who was also a war hero, Wint Smith (1892-1976).

1946 was a major comeback year for the GOP after chafing under Roosevelt, and the Congress that resulted was the staunchly conservative 80th, which passed tax reduction, a partial rollback of the Wagner Act, and a partial rollback of anti-trust laws surrounding railroads over President Truman’s veto. Frank Carlson was not running for reelection in Kansas’s 6th district, and he was succeeded by the much more conservative Wint Smith. Smith had served in three military conflicts for the United States: the border war with Mexico under General Pershing, World War I, and World War II. He had been injured thrice in the line of duty and his command of the 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion was effective in combat in the Battle of the Bulge and in preserving the lives of his men; his training was strict about always wearing a helmet. By the end of World War II, he was promoted to Brigadier General. Smith had also been the head attorney of the Kansas Highway Commission, a law enforcement outfit, and had commanded the highway patrol. Under Smith, they were authorized to act as a police force to solve the problem of repeated bank robberies by effectively waging a war on the gangs, including shooting robbers on sight (Congressional Record, 27832).

Wint Smith was a giant of a man, at 6’4″ and 240 pounds, but he contrasted this frame with a soft-spoken demeanor. His record was on most issues uncompromising – he opposed the minimum wage, organized labor, federal funding for sewage treatment plants, public housing, admitting European war refugees, public housing, foreign aid, and public power. Smith thought the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy unfair and President Eisenhower far too moderate. He stated on the matter, “I recognize my obligation as a Republican, but when you find yourself in disagreement what’s the representative to do? Vote his own convictions, or follow along blindly? In strict analysis, there isn’t any use to electing a Congress if they’re going to follow the leadership…one of the things we campaigned against was usurpation of power by the executive…If I voted against things when Truman was President, I can’t in good conscience change overnight…” (McConaughy, 133). However, Smith could bend for public works projects, particularly reclamation projects, and farm price supports. On civil rights, his record is mostly negative; while he voted to ban the poll tax in 1947 and voted for the 1956 Powell Amendment, Smith voted against fair employment practices legislation in 1950, civil rights legislation in 1956, 1957, and 1960, opposed the creation and extension of the Civil Rights Commission, and voted against the 1960 Powell Amendment. In 1959, he was one of only 24 House Republicans to vote against the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state.

In 1958, Smith faced a difficult bid for renomination and indeed that was an unusually tough year for Republicans in Kansas: two incumbents, Errett Scrivner and Myron George, lost reelection, and he was nearly a third. He had only narrowly won his primary against future Congressman Keith Sebelius with the help of Bob Dole, who he gratefully endorsed as his successor for 1960. Smith’s MC-Index score was a 91%. Although Bob Dole’s was only three points lower on my scale, he differed from Smith in his approach in that as a senator he was actively involved in the crafting of bipartisan compromises while sticking with the GOP line on meat and potatoes issues. Smith was a legislator who stuck with his principles and his district regardless.

References

Extension of Remarks of Keith G. Sebelius (KS). (1969, September 30). Congressional Record.

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McConaughy, J.L. (1954, June 21). While Eisenhower Proposes, The Old Guard Disposes. LIFE.

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World War II: 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Kansas National Guard Museum.

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