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Ashcroft sets example of true statesman

By By BILL ARMISTEAD
State Senator
It is not hard to recognize a statesman and unselfish public servant when you see one. Maybe it is because such a person is very rare or it could be that they just stand out among all others. Whatever the case may be, it is refreshing to see such a person.
U.S. Senator John Ashcroft (R-Missouri) has proven himself to be a true statesman and a refreshingly unselfish public servant. I first met Ashcroft ten years ago when he was Governor of Missouri and I was serving in the Cabinet of Alabama Governor Guy Hunt. I had the good fortune to meet with him several times while he was Governor. I also learned what a great gospel music singer he was and heard him sing on several occasions.
Since then, Ashcroft has been elected to the U.S. Senate and I have been equally impressed with his service to his state and the nation. On the occasions that I have met with Ashcroft, I always went away with the feeling that I had been in the presence of a truly great man whose priorities were God, nation, family, others and lastly himself.
Sen. Ashcroft's service to Missouri and the nation has been temporarily interrupted as he was narrowly defeated in his bid to win re-election last month. What was most astonishing about his defeat was the fact that his opponent was the deceased Governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, who was the Democrat nominee for the U.S. Senate.
Carnahan and his son were killed in a plane crash just a couple of weeks before the election. Since the Democrats did not have time to replace Carnahan as their candidate, his name remained on the ballot. The Missouri Lt. Governor, who replaced Carnahan as Governor upon his death, announced that he would appoint Carnahan's wife to the U.S. Senate if voters voted for Carnahan on election day. The sympathy vote for the Carnahan family was strong on November 7th and the deceased Governor won the election by 48,000 votes.
Even though Carnahan won the election, there were clouds hanging over the Missouri election. Some election experts and political operatives said that Ashcroft should challenge Carnahan's election to the U.S. Senate since he was deceased at the time of the election. They said that the election should be voided because the constitution does not provide for a deceased candidate winning an election.
Also, there were many charges of election fraud in St. Louis. The polls were scheduled to close on election day at 7 PM. However, a local Democrat judge ordered the polls to remain open until 10 PM in heavily Democrat St. Louis since many voters had difficulty voting, were confused', or just didn't get to vote.
Republicans became enraged at the extension of the voting hours in St. Louis and quickly went to court to have the polls closed. An appeals court ruled that the polls must close at 8 PM, but everyone in line to vote at that time was allowed to vote. The last vote was cast at 10:30 PM, three and one half-hours after the polls were to have closed.
Sen. Ashcroft not only had the very difficult and sensitive task of running a campaign against a dead man, but now was facing possible illegal voting in St. Louis by allowing one group of people to continue to vote when all other polls in the state had closed.
Many Ashcroft supporters (and attorneys) pleaded with Sen. Ashcroft to challenge the election in court based on the constitutionality of electing a deceased candidate and the legality of the votes cast in St. Louis after the polls were to have closed. What transpired on the morning after the election was in stark contrast to the legal battles that Vice President Gore is waging to win the presidency.
In a very statesman-like manner, Sen. Ashcroft called a news conference, just hours after all the votes were in, to announce that he was conceding the election to the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. Ashcroft rejected the possibility of a challenge to the election, saying, "I will not initiate any legal challenge and I will not participate in any legal challenge. I believe that the will of the people has been expressed." Ashcroft may have won an extended legal battle to re-claim the Senate seat for himself, but he did not feel such an exercise would not be in the state's best interest.
As he fought back tears at the news conference, Ashcroft said, "Missouri is a compassionate state, and I think in a very special way they have demonstrated the compassion which they have. And I hope that the outcome of this election is a matter of comfort to Mrs. Carnahan. And I hope that we can all accord her the opportunity to have the kind of necessary recovery time after such a great personal loss." What class! Ashcroft was again putting Mrs. Carnahan and the citizens of Missouri ahead of his personal ambition.
While the Gov. Carnahan's death complicated Ashcroft's campaign in the closing days he said, "I don't have regrets about the way we handled things … some things are more important than politics and I believe that doing what is right is the most important thing we can do.''
In closing Ashcroft said, "I think as public officials we have the opportunity to model values for our cultureresponsibility, dignity, decency, integrity and respect. And if we can only model those when it's politically expedient to do so, we've never modeled the values, we've only modeled political expediency".
Sen. Ashcroft is truly a model for all Americans to emulate. We can all learn so much from his life, and his public service. While Ashcroft may have lost his Senate seat, he has gained so much more that can not be measured with a title. He has truly modeled the values America needs to see in its public servants: responsibility; dignity; decency; integrity; and respect.