A conservative on economic issues and a liberal on social questions, Jack French Kemp, Jr. (born 1935), was an articulate spokesperson for the Republican Party for many years. He was the vice presidential candidate on the Republican Party's ticket in Sen. Bob Dole's failed run for the presidency in 1996.
Jack French Kemp, Jr., was born in Los Angeles, California, on July 13, 1935. He attended public elementary and high schools in Los Angeles. In 1957 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he was the starting quarterback and team captain of the football team. Kemp did post-graduate work at Long Beach State University and California Western University in political science and education.
Between 1958 and 1962 Kemp was a member of the United States Army Reserves, serving in active duty during 1958. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers football team, with whom he played for five years. During his stay with San Diego he was selected as the captain of the team in 1961 and 1962. He was then traded to the Buffalo Bills and led them to the American Football League championship for two consecutive years, 1964 and 1965. In 1965 he was voted the league's most valuable player. During his athletic career Kemp co-founded the American Football League Players Association (1956) and between 1956 and 1970 he was elected its president five times.
During the later years of his football career Kemp began to develop his political background by associating with a newly elected governor of California, Ronald Reagan. In 1967 Kemp was appointed to the position of special assistant to the governor, gaining political experience and some notoriety during Reagan's governorship. He furthered his experiences by winning a position as the special assistant to the chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1969. He continued his football career until 1970, when he retired to pursue a career in politics.
Kemp's leadership skills led him to be oriented toward a variety of community activities in the Buffalo, New York, area. His dedication gained the respect of the community and led him to be the recipient of a series of awards. He was given the Distinguished Service Award by the New York State Jaycees. He also was given an Outstanding Citizen Award by the Buffalo Evening News in 1965 and 1974.
With the support of a popular football career and the experiences gained from his activities with the players' association, Kemp launched a political career that led him to a seat in Congress. On January 3, 1971, he was sworn into the House of Representatives for a district comprised of several Buffalo suburbs and western New York state as a member of the Republican Party. A member of the 92nd Congress of the United States, Kemp remained for nine terms, until 1989. During his years as a congressman Kemp served for seven years in the Republican Party leadership as chairman of the House Republican Conference.
During the Nixon and Ford administrations Kemp maintained middle-of-the-road positions due in part to his inexperience and the domination by the Democratic majority in the House. After gaining experience in the House through diligence in informing himself on issues, he became known as a strong Republican voice on economic issues.
When the political leadership in the White House switched from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, Kemp found his political views commanding significant interest, primarily through President Reagan's economic strategy. Kemp became a major voice for "supply-side economics," which President Reagan accepted as a driving force in his domestic policies. Kemp co-authored a 30 percent tax reduction plan that would cut personal taxes over the first three years of Reagan's term, known as the Kemp-Roth plan. The proposal was adopted in modified form by Congress in 1981 (he had worked to secure the support of nearly all Republicans by 1978). As a strong advocate of a supply-side economic strategy, Kemp aimed to reduce the corporate and individual tax rates to encourage business growth and create jobs. He also voiced strong views on abortion and on the need to continue a strong military build-up.
Kemp's viewpoints tended to the left on some issues, which lowered acceptance of him by the more conservative Republicans. Kemp fought cuts on Social Security and expressed a lot of concern for child nutrition funding. He also supported economic provisioning for revitalization of inner cities. While these viewpoints balanced his political platform, they confused some Republican voters. Some felt he was unqualified to hold higher political office because of these inconsistencies.
Kemp continued with his strong economic plans, expressing much concern for a reduction in inflation. He rounded up enough congressional support to pass an amendment to Congress' 1986 budget plan. The resolution called for an international conference with the goal of reforming the world monetary system. The ideals of Kemp's efforts were appreciated but he failed to stick to a solid plan of action, confusing his supporters.
Kemp hinted at running for governor of New York in 1980 and for the Senate later that term. He held back from officially declaring any run for higher office until he unsuccessfully attempted to gain the candidacy for the Republican nomination for president in 1988.
Under the Bush administration Kemp was appointed secretary of housing and urban development (HUD) on February 13, 1989. Kemp was faced with the task of rehabilitating a department that during the Reagan administration was left to waste. He shut down questionable HUD programs and tightened control of others. A lack of financial support prevented him from producing any noticeable growth in HUD programs, and he received some negative press for the lack of growth in these programs.
Although out of office, Kemp remained oriented toward furthering his political goal: the presidency. In January 1993, he co-founded Empower America, a public policy and advocacy organization designed to expand on democratic capitalism and advancing social policies. Kemp also served as a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institute, two conservative think tanks.
Still, Kemp considered not even attending the 1996 Republican Convention, telling reporters that his political life was over and that he was a "has been." A few days later, he was named Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate despite past differences.
After Clinton's landslide win, Kemp rejoined the board of directors of Carson Inc., an African-American company with a growing international base. He lost no time in aiming for another shot at the presidency in 2000. In early 1997, he told reporters that the last election had only "whetted my appetite" for the job. He plotted a strategy of inclusion of African Americans and the poor, saying he wanted the party to return to its roots in the days of Abraham Lincoln. "I believe with all my heart that there is a struggle going on for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. That party must be inclusive, not exclusive, it must be progressive and conservative, not reactionary and conservative."
Jack Kemp married Joanne Main during his collegiate years in California. They had four children: Jeffery, Jennifer, Judith, and James.
Further Reading on Jack French Kemp Jr
The American Idea, Ending Limits to Growth, published in 1984, and An American Renaissance: A strategy for the 1980's, published in 1979, both by Jack Kemp; articles by Kemp include "Better than Affirmative Action" in the Washington Post July 8, 1997.