- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

A year ago, Kenneth L. Connor, 53, a well-to-do Republican trial lawyer from Tallahassee, Fla., wasn't even considering succeeding Gary Bauer as the new president of the Family Research Council. Instead, he was planning to run for state attorney general in 2002.
Eventually, he changed his mind. He tells why in this interview with culture page editor Julia Duin.

Q: I understand this position means a salary cut from your lucrative law practice. Why are you moving to a more expensive town for less money?
A: The potential for shaping the public conversation on a variety of issues that are important to me was extraordinary at the FRC. I felt the quality of the [110-person] staff was remarkable and the work product they generate was extraordinary.
Being president of FRC was not on my radar screen. I did the interview sort of as a courtesy. I really had other plans and expectations. After the offer was extended, I called [Prison Fellowship founder] Chuck Colson I had worked with Chuck on a number of issues mostly involving corrections reform in our state and told him of my dilemma, which was trying to decide to run for attorney general or serving as president of this organization. And he said, "Well, I'm the guy who recommended you for it." He said, "Ken, it sounds like you have to decide whether you want to live in Florida and practice law or come to Washington and try to change the culture." That's when I appreciated the truth in those posters that say, He who frames the issue determines the outcome of the debate.
Q: You've made your fortune in representing victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. What needs to be done to improve our nation's health care system?
A: There's a pervasive problem with the abuse and neglect of the elderly in nursing homes. That represents in many respects the trivialization of human life that we've seen that begins at one end of the age spectrum and goes to full flower at the other end. I've advocated on behalf of unborn children, the handicapped and the elderly. Their plight illustrates the natural outgrowth of the Darwinian ethic [that says] your dignity and worth is directly proportionate to how fully functional you are and as you become diminished in those capacities, your dignity diminishes as well.
The federal government just came out with a report that tied the problem of short staffing in nursing homes to adverse outcomes: skin breakdown, malnutrition, dehydration, hygiene problems. I know the president has said he will encourage an infusion of funds into the nursing home industry tied to more staffing. I think we need to go beyond that by empowering families to make more choices for long-term care. For too long, nursing home care has been the first response instead of the last response. Medicaid/Medicare provides reimbursement for nursing home care; historically, we've not provided reimbursement for other kinds of care, like home health care or adult day care. We ought to empower families to make more choices about how they care for their elderly loved ones.
Q: How are you different from Gary Bauer?
A: Well, I'm taller. I'm teasing. We come from different backgrounds. I'm an active, practicing civil trial lawyer, practicing in that arena for 30 years. I think Gary has done an outstanding job at FRC. This organization really flourished under his leadership. There will be changes that reflect my background: elder care and adoption. We are adoptive parents. I know from experience that just because a child isn't wanted by someone doesn't mean she is not wanted by everyone.
Q: Like Mr. Bauer, what is the chance you may leave this job to run for political office?
A: Slim to none. I made the decision to forbear pursuing political office in order to come here. I had thought that political office and political power is the vehicle for political and cultural change. Yet, you look at someone like Dr. Martin Luther King. He never held political office, and yet one could scarcely deny the impact he had on the civil rights movement.
Q: Do you still give away [as reported in 1994 by the Miami Herald] a quarter of your income?
A: We typically set aside 20 percent of my earnings. We feel we've been blessed, and we want to share out of that bounty.
Good lawyers can make good money in any state. I've made substantial income because (a) I've been on the right side of issues, as far as juries are concerned; (b) I've exposed instances of horrifying abuse and neglect; and (c) I've done a professional job in the process.
Q: Why do you admire [the late Christian theologian] Francis Schaeffer?
A: He was one of the most extraordinary philosophers and theologians of the modern era. He had a vision of what would happen if our country continued down the path [that] was problematic. And history has borne him out. Schaeffer in a compelling way showed how every class of vulnerable human beings is shaped by this "quality of life" calculus. If we view people's values in terms of their economic net worth, those who cost more to maintain are always at risk. Schaeffer warned this abortion mentality would be extended to handicapped children; to infanticide; to active euthanasia. All of those ideas have reached full flower in this country. Schaeffer also said if one deigns to call himself a Christian, he or she had an obligation to contend for social justice for those people who can't speak for themselves.
When I read his book "A Christian Manifesto" years ago, which said Americans were interested in pursuing two goals personal peace and affluence we were living right in the middle of our comfort zone in this tiny town in central Florida, in our dream house, making a ton of money, living the good life. I was deeply convicted because he said: "Where were the Christian lawyers when Roe vs. Wade was determined. Why didn't they sound the alarm?" Well, I knew where I was. I was saying, "That's not relevant to my area of practice."
Q: What's the status of religion in society and have religious people been marginalized? Have they lost their clout?
A: Both parties are falling all over themselves to demonstrate they extol the virtues of family, faith and freedom. The perspectives of the community of faith are center stage and mainstream. My hope is this: With Sen. Joe Lieberman being an observant Jew and his politics being more palatable to many in the media, the conclusion that many will come to is there is a place for people of faith at the table.
Q: Why did you agree to chair Florida Right to Life?
A: I feel strongly about the importance of protecting innocent life. When we speak on behalf of the unborn, we speak on behalf of every frail, vulnerable citizen who is at risk.
Q: What's your position on abortion in cases of rape and incest?
A: My view is right to life ought to be guarded regardless of the circumstances of the conception. It's wrong to execute a child for the crime of his or her parent. Women who've been victims certainly deserve our concern, but their child deserves to live. Where I grew up [in northern Florida], they used to execute rapists. That is better than executing the rapist's child.

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