Earlier this week, I was visiting with Judge Bob Sullivan at the courthouse. As we were talking, the name John Danforth came up. That was a fortunate discussion because it gave me the idea for this column.
Today, the people of our country yearn for quality public servants. While we have many great people in our local community serving the public, the same cannot be said for the nation as a whole.
When Judge Sullivan mentioned Danforth’s name during our discussion, I thought to myself that Danforth is probably the best example of a quality public servant in recent history. Danforth is best known for his service in the United States Senate. But, the Missouri Senator is much more than a footnote in the history of the Senate.
John Danforth, born in 1936, began his career after attending law and divinity graduate schools at Yale University. After a short time at the New York law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell, he was elected in 1968 at the age of 32 to be Missouri Attorney General. On his staff of assistant attorneys general were John Ashcroft and future Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas.
In 1976 Danforth was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in a Democrat controlled state. He retired from the Senate in 1995.
Senator Danforth’s character, loyalty, and courage was clearly on display during the brutal 1991 Senate hearings regarding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Danforth used his considerable clout to repel such dishonorable adversaries as Joseph Biden and Ted Kennedy. This significantly aided the confirmation of Thomas, who had not only served Danforth during his state attorney general years but later as an aide in the Senate. Their bond was further strengthened in that both men had studied to be ordained ministers. Thomas left the Catholic seminary but attended Episcopal services, as Danforth became an ordained Episcopal priest.
Another example of Danforth’s “tell it like it is” service to our people was in 1999, when Democrat U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed him to lead an investigation into the FBI’s role in the 1993 Waco Siege. Danforth appointed Democrat U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd, Jr. for the Eastern District of Missouri as his deputy special counsel for Waco. His investigative operations would become known as the “Waco Investigation” or “Danforth Report.” In his report, he boldly concluded that the Branch Davidians and the FBI were both at fault in some aspects of the disaster. He would be criticized for his report from all angles of the political spectrum.
In July 2000, Danforth’s name was leaked as being on the short list of potential vice presidential nominees for Republican candidate George W. Bush. Danforth came rather close to getting the nod. Bush wrote in his autobiography Decision Points that Danforth would have been his choice if Richard Cheney did not accept.
In September 2001, President Bush appointed Danforth as a special envoy to the Sudan. He brokered a peace deal that officially ended the civil war in the South between Sudan’s Islamic government and Christian-backed Sudanese rebels. However, elements of that conflict still remain unresolved today.
Recently, this lawyer, politician, minister, and ambassador became a business owner. On May 9, 2012, Danforth became part of a group that took over ownership of the St. Louis Blues in the National Hockey League.
I can’t say that I agree with all of his political positions he espoused over the years. I am much more conservative than John Danforth. However, I suppose that the aspect of this man’s character that supports my assertion that he is an excellent example of a public servant is that he always tries to do the right thing. It does not matter if a majority of people agree with him or not. He does not serve his political party. He serves the people of the United States.
I pray that this elder statesman is doing well and continues to show our people what it means to truly serve.