Recently the New York Times reported that Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who owns a duplex in Dodge City as well as a house in Alexandria, Va., does not live in the Dodge City home when he is in Kansas. Instead, Roberts has rented out the house for several years; he told the Times he pays a friend $300 a month to stay in a room in the friend's house during visits to his home state.
The article set off an uproar, with both Democrats and Republicans slamming Roberts. But the piece did not shed much light on the bigger question, which is how much time Roberts spends in Kansas. In the story's second paragraph, the Times quoted a Dodge City resident who said, "I've been here since '77, and I’ve only seen [Roberts] twice." Readers who stuck around for the third-to-last paragraph learned that "in the last year, [Roberts] has visited 72 of the state's 105 counties, several of them more than once," although the Times suggested Roberts only did so because he fears a primary challenge. (He has one, in Kansas City physician Milton Wolf, who has used the Times story to attack Roberts as a Republican who really represents Virginia, not Kansas.)
But the question remains: How much time has Roberts spent in Kansas? Not just in 2013, but in years past, when he was less concerned about his immediate re-election prospects?
After the Times piece came out, I posed that question to Roberts' spokeswoman in Washington and his campaign manager in Kansas. Roberts has schedules and records; it wouldn't be too much trouble to see how much he had been in Kansas. His aides said they had begun gathering that information and at one point had six staff members reconstructing Roberts' Kansas visits. They worked Saturday, Sunday, and much of Monday, promising to have the information soon.
And then, late Monday afternoon, Roberts' office got in touch to say they wouldn't be giving out any details of the senator's days in Kansas. "We're not going to release numbers because we're not sure that any number would be acceptable to some of these outside groups," said spokeswoman Sarah Little. "We're worried about what the yardstick is. Who defines how much is enough days in the state?"
Little sent a statement from Roberts, which she said would be the senator's final word on the matter. This is the statement:
The New York Times does not get to define what it means to be a Kansan. Kansas is my home, has always been my home and I never stop working for Kansans. I helped invent the "listening tour" in Kansas which I conduct every Congress and I have been to each of the 105 counties in Kansas time and time again. My campaign has received donations from every county and I have endorsements from all parts of the state. I was in Kansas last week and I will be there next week.
It's not clear how many days in Kansas would be "enough" for Roberts' foes. But being a senator does involve a lot of time out of the state. The Senate is usually in session about 150 days a year. Then there is work senators do in Washington on days when the Senate is not in session. And then there is travel time. There are a few direct flights from Washington to Kansas City -- it takes about three hours -- but if Roberts' destination is Dodge City, he'll have many hours of driving on top of that. So a number of days would be taken by travel. Put it all together, and Roberts could make a reasonable case that the normal work of a senator whose home state is more than 1,000 miles from Washington requires a lot of time outside of Kansas.
But now Roberts has chosen not to give out the information. Of course that will raise suspicions. His trips to Kansas are public record, and someone, perhaps in the press or a political rival, will start the work of calculating Roberts' time in Kansas. In the end, Roberts will likely have to address the issue again. And maybe then, he'll give out the information he doesn't want to divulge now.
This story was first published at 03:23 a.m.