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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Jon Kyl: Behind the scenes integrity

    Jon Richescolumnist
    Jon Riches

    After a direct but eloquent two-minute speech, Sen. Jon Kyl turned to Chairman Arlen Specter and yielded the rest of his time.

    Generally, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are allotted five minutes to make opening statements before hearings. And generally, senators use this time to grandstand in front of both the television cameras and the press sitting in the gallery. I attended hearings in the Senate for a few weeks and had yet to see a senator give up his time. In fact, it was rare to see a senator not go over time. So when Kyl stopped speaking, I was surprised. And once again, I was impressed with my new boss.

    During the summer of 2005, I worked for Kyl as a legal clerk on the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, which he chairs. I learned a great deal that summer – about both the man and his policies. As Arizonans, we should be proud of Kyl’s policy record, but we should also be proud of the type of man he is – and the type of character he has.

    Kyl’s reputation as a man of character and integrity is not exaggerated. Washington can sometimes be a town where probity and principles are hard to come by, as recent scandals involving Mark Foley and William Jefferson, among others, demonstrate. But this is not the case with Kyl.

    Kyl is an honest, straightforward and principled politician. A security adviser to the first President Bush described Kyl as “”one of the most principled politicians I have ever dealt with.”” He went on, “”I think that’s what makes him so effective. With Kyl, you always know you were dealing with a serious man, someone who was capable of seeing beyond the next election.””

    Kyl does give the impression of a serious man. He speaks in a deliberate manner, and his voice carries weight and confidence. While Kyl certainly has a politician’s ability to charm a crowd, he is best when his manner is all business. And, indeed, he usually is all business. He focuses on the work of his constituents intently. He even walks intently, and at speeds that probably embarrass aides 30 years his junior as they struggle to keep up.

    It is not just Kyl’s feet that move rapidly. He has one of the quickest and most astute minds I’ve ever encountered. While shadowing Kyl through one of his workdays, it was remarkable to watch him switch gears from one task to the next. He could walk into a meeting regarding Sky Harbor International Airport construction, speak fluently on the subject for 30 minutes, leave for another meeting on an intricate energy issue and master that topic after a two-minute brief he received from an aide during the walk.

    It is not surprising that these characteristics have helped Kyl successfully enact policies on a range of issues, including tax cuts, judicial reform, national security, border security, water rights, victims’ rights and environmental protection policies, among others.

    These impressive accomplishments make Kyl one of the UA’s best and brightest alums. A near-native of Arizona, Kyl graduated from the UA in 1964 with honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He stayed at the UA for law school and served as editor in chief of the Arizona Law Review. He then went into private practice, where he made a name for himself as a land and water rights lawyer in Phoenix. In 1986, Kyl was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served in the House until he won his Senate seat in 1994 by a 14-point margin.

    After serving two terms in the U.S. Senate, Kyl has earned a reputation as a principled and effective leader who gets the job done by spending less time in front of the cameras and more time meticulously going about the business of his constituents. In fact, when Time magazine recently named Kyl one of “”America’s 10 Best Senators,”” they also nicknamed him “”The Operator,”” a reference to Kyl’s efficient behind-the-scenes leadership.

    But, what I’ve learned from working for Kyl is that he is more than just an effective behind-the-scenes workhorse. He is also a man of character and absolute integrity.

    A few days after I returned to Arizona last fall, I spoke to a friend about what we had each done that summer. Toward the end of our conversation, he asked an important question, “”Hey, what did you learn in Washington?”” I responded with the first thing that came to mind: “”We need more senators like Jon Kyl.””

    Jon Riches is a third-year law student. He can be reached at

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