FILE: Clayton Christensen, left, a former area Seventy for the LDS Church, performed the baptism of Sen. Larry Pressler, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1979-1996 for the state of South Dakota. The baptism took place in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
I often listen to the TV morning news shows with half an ear while getting ready for work. But I had to stop in my tracks when I heard that a former Republican U.S. senator is endorsing Hillary Clinton. Not because she is the “lesser of two evils” as some suggest, but the former senator from South Dakota actually likes her positions on various issues. He spelled out in some detail the reasons he is voting for Clinton rather than against her opponent.
On the TV screen, his face and name appeared. Larry Pressler. Distinguished, professional, cultured. Those adjectives describe my brief assessment of Pressler as I absorbed his rationale for voting across the political aisle in this unpredictable election cycle.
As I walked closer to the TV and got a better look at him, his face and voice seemed familiar. Sen. Pressler! He’s the man I randomly sat next to while attending church last year in London. He’s that guy. While waiting for the church services to begin, we had casually introduced ourselves. He told me he was a recent convert to the LDS Church and had served nearly 20 years in the U.S. Senate and four years in the United States House of Representatives. We immediately clicked, as he was reciprocally interested in my political service.
But here’s what you should also know about Sen. Pressler. He’s authentic. He’s humble. And, after doing more research on this man, he’s honest to the core.
For those of us old enough to remember the Abscam scandal 36 years ago, Pressler is noted for being the only one of the nine known members of Congress approached to flatly refuse to take a bribe from undercover FBI agents and then to report the bribe attempt to the FBI during the Abscam investigations. In an overall review of the Abscam cases, Judge J. Pratt had the highest praise for Sen. Pressler. “Pressler, particularly, acted as citizens have a right to expect their elected representatives to act. He showed a clear awareness of the line between proper and improper conduct, and despite his confessed need for campaign money, and despite the additional attractiveness to him of the payment offered, he nevertheless refused to cross into impropriety,” said Judge Pratt.
An article in the Washington Post on Feb. 4, 1980, states: “Thanks to the FBI’s undercover ‘sting’ operation, there now exists incontrovertible evidence that one senator would not be bought. Preserved among the videotape footage that may be used as bribery evidence against a number of members of Congress, there is a special moment in which Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) tells the undercover agents, in effect, to take their sting and stick it. Pressler, according to law enforcement sources, was the one approached member of Congress who flatly refused to consider financial favors in exchange for legislative favors, as suggested by undercover agents posing as Arabs. At the time he said he was not aware that he was doing anything quite so heroic.”
It has been said that true character is how one behaves when no one is watching. Larry Pressler has true character. The Vietnam veteran and Harvard Law graduate never mentioned the Abscam case to me during our brief conversation in that London chapel. He was much too humble. But Sen. Larry Pressler is a model and inspiration on how all people should behave; especially those who are elected to represent the great citizens of our great country.
Pressler also sets an important example of courageous bipartisanship, looking at an individual candidate’s credentials rather than solely at party label: in this case, former secretary Clinton’s.
Sen. Pressler, thank you for your service, for your authenticity and for your example of honesty. Most of all, thank you for providing a refreshingly positive story about politicians for a change.
Patricia W. Jones is CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute. She was a co-founder and president of Dan Jones & Associates. She served in both the Utah House and Senate for a total of 14 years, 12 of which were in Democratic leadership positions, being the first woman legislator to serve in leadership from either party.