Former Senate Republican Leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole, who forged a legislative record in food and agriculture and the rights of the disabled, died Sunday. He was 98. 

His wife’s Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced his death but did not disclose its cause or where he died. Dole disclosed earlier this year that he had begun treatment for advanced stage lung cancer.

Although he spent most of his long congressional career in the minority during the years that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Dole had an outsized influence in many legislative accomplishments. He was a pathbreaker not only in food and agriculture but also in disability rights and veterans’ affairs, according to his archives housed at the University of Kansas.

One of his proudest accomplishments was helping forge the rural-urban coalition that enacted the 1973 farm bill, which expanded the food stamp program to every political jurisdiction in the country. “We could pass it through the Senate because almost every senator represented farmers,” Dole said in a 2017 interview with Agri-Pulse

“When you got to the House you had so many city representatives, whether it’s New York or L.A. or any big city,” and for many of them, voting against the farm bill was “their one conservative vote,” he said. “We needed both programs, so why not put them together? … Sometimes you do things to get things done, and this was done on a bipartisan basis.”

Dole joined his Democratic Senate colleagues, George McGovern of South Dakota and Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, to make it easier for the needy to get food stamps. Their first food stamp reform bill became part of the 1977 farm bill. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, he supported the development and publication in January 1977 of Dietary Goals for the United States, a precursor of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans now published by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Another significant Dole contribution came when American Agriculture Movement (AAM) members drove tractors to Washington to lobby for increased federal commodity price guarantees. 

When the Carter Administration resisted AAM demands, Dole proposed a voluntary “flexible parity” scheme that would allow basic crop producers to idle up to 50% of their land in return for a price support loan equal to 100% of the parity price. A formula would have allowed lower loan rates for smaller set-asides. The bill passed the Senate in April 1978 but was defeated in the House

Throughout his congressional service, Dole hired and trained several talented staff members who went on to occupy important federal and private sector positions in Washington. Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative during the Trump Administration, served Dole as trade counsel on the Senate Finance Committee when Dole chaired it. Sheila Bair, who was Dole’s staff counsel in the 1980s, later was an assistant secretary of the Treasury, acting chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) where she played a key role in overcoming the 2008 financial collapse.

Among his staff assistants who specialized in farm matters were David Spears, who became a commissioner on the CFTC; John Gordley, who was special assistant to the president for policy development in the Reagan Administration and later a lobbyist who ran the American Soybean Association Washington office for many years; Mark K. Scanlan, now senior vice president of agriculture and rural policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA); Michael Torrey, who now has his own agriculture lobbying practice in Washington; and Kim Wells, who returned to Kansas to practice law and chair the state Republican party. 

The late William A. Taggart, Dole’s staffer on the Senate Agriculture Committee, later was a Washington lobbyist for the Mars confection company and other clients. As a member of the Platform Committee when the 1976 Republican National Convention nominated Dole to be President Gerald R. Ford’s vice presidential running mate, Taggart told of deflecting conservative anxiety about Dole’s cooperation with McGovern on food assistance legislation.

Marshall Matz, McGovern’s general counsel on the Senate Ag Committee, said working together, the two “helped to feed literally millions of people around the world.

“They worked together to support the price of wheat, but also to reform the food stamp program, child nutrition programs and create the (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children),” he said. “Then after they left the Senate, working with President Clinton, they created the global school lunch program that now feeds millions of children in the poorest areas of the world. I still remember Dole turning to McGovern in the Oval Office, and saying, ‘George, I was always wondering what this office looked like.’”

Dole’s early years in Washington were shaped by the wheat economy of central and western Kansas that he represented in the House from 1961 to 1969 and refined by his five terms in the Senate. He was Senate Republican leader from 1985 until he resigned in 1996 to seek the GOP presidential nomination. He was majority leader twice when Republicans controlled the Senate (1985-87 and 1995-96). He chaired the Republican National Committee in 1971-73.

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Dole was born July 22, 1923, in Russell, Kansas, his official residence throughout his political career. After leaving public office, he continued to be active in politics and public issues. He led the campaign to build the World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall. Initially a supporter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential primaries, he endorsed Donald Trump after Trump won the nomination. He is married to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. During World War II, as a second lieutenant in the Army, Dole was badly wounded by German machine-gun fire in Italy, with injuries that required a long recovery and left him with limited mobility in his right arm. 

His 1996 presidential campaign, despite ending in a loss, opened up numerous opportunities for Dole owing in part to his sense of humor. He became a television commercial spokesman and an occasional political commentator. After leaving office, Dole joined the Washington, D.C. firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, where he was a registered lobbyist on behalf of foreign governments (including Kosovo, Taiwan and Slovenia). In 2003, he registered as a foreign agent to represent the government of Taiwan.

Dole’s legacy includes a commitment to combating hunger both in the United States and around the globe. He joined McGovern to create the International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which bears their names, to provide nutritious meals for children in developing countries. The program won McGovern and Dole the 2008 World Food Prize. Dole and other former Senate majority leaders founded the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank. Dole was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997.

Tributes to Dole were expressed by many admirers after he announced in February 2021 that he was to be treated for advanced lung cancer. Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, a Democrat who had represented Kansas in the House of Representatives, said on the occasion of Dole’s 97th birthday in 2020, that Dole was “a great leader, legislator, Kansan and American. In today’s world, we should relish (and could use more of) his grit, courage, tenacity, good judgment, but especially his sense of humor.”

Matz, the McGovern counsel who also worked closely with Dole, said that “Dole was not just a part of the Greatest Generation, he was the Chairman.”

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