Bob Talkington: state and family first, then politics


December 28, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Kansas raised its general sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent in 1986. That was a 33 percent increase. Huge.
Iola’s Bob Talkington played a key role in guiding that increase, which was proposed by Democrat Gov. John Carlin, through the Legislature. Talkington was president of the Kansas Senate. He also was a fervent and loyal Republican who was considered a prime candidate for governor. Where he stood on the big issues made a difference.
Still, there were many Republicans in both houses who (1) didn’t want to raise taxes. Period. And (2) didn’t want to give a Democratic chief executive a victory. After Talkington’s stand helped the tax hike through, some of his party comrades asked him why on earth he had favored the bill.
“I voted for the tax because the state of Kansas needs the money,” he said. Politics took second place.
Perhaps this single incident comes as close as any one vote possibly could of explaining why Robert V. Talkington of Iola stood so tall for so long in Kansas public affairs. He went into politics to serve, not to be served; to do good things for his district, his adopted state and the Republican Party. In that order.
It was a cast of mind that often handed him the ticklish job of finding common ground among Republican factions as well as with Democrats. He found the bridges that led to accomplishments. The compromises he helped engineer led to getting things done rather than making political points. A minimum of feathers were ruffled; everyone could feel good about the part they played in moving the state forward.
Bob Talkington died Sunday morning. His death leaves behind a long, long history of accomplishments that today’s members of the Kansas Legislature should study each evening and rise the next day determined to go and do likewise.
He first served as Allen County attorney, then as a member of the House of Representatives, then as a senator, where he first was majority leader, then president. Because he was devoted to making Kansas highways superior, he moved from the senate to the Kansas Turnpike Authority. Because he was a tireless champion of the University of Kansas (and the Jayhawks) and understood the importance of higher education to the people of Kansas, he ended his political career as a member of the Board of Regents.
This oversimplifies. Bob’s steady stream of “promotions” came because he worked very hard. Every one of those jobs requires hours of study. Bob rose to the top in each of his positions because he mastered the material in addition to mastering the personal relationships required to be effective.

BOB STEPPED away from his demanding jobs at the state level a few years ago to spend more time with his wife, Donna, their five children, their grandchildren and do more relaxing. But this is not to say that he ever shortchanged Donna or their brood, or his friends. He had that gift, too.
At the Presbyterian Church most Sundays, Bob had a cup of coffee and a cookie or two after the morning service and sat in a chair by the piano, talking with whomever sat beside him. That is only one of many places where he will be sorely missed.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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