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Remembering journalist David Broder

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The Post asked politicians to recall their interactions with David S. Broder ahead of his memorial service today. The service, which begins at noon at the National Press Club, will be broadcast on washingtonpost.com and CSPAN.

LAMAR ALEXANDER

Republican senator from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference

David Broder was so proper that he did not want to appear to be influenced even by the gift of a plaid shirt. In February 1995, I announced a run for president wearing the red and black plaid shirt that I had worn when walking across Tennessee in my campaigns for governor. Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote that my shirt was not fit for a possum. Other reporters were critical. So I sent a plaid shirt to each of the major political columnists. The only one who replied was Broder, who thanked me and carefully noted that he had given the shirt to charity.

David showed up when other reporters did not. In 1986, I hosted an event at the Tennessee governor’s residence for a Southern Republican Leadership Conference. This was not a private event, but no reporters bothered to attend except Broder, who had somehow found out about it and traveled to Nashville to find out what was going on.

ED RENDELL

Former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania

I would see David Broder in person every year at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Convention or the National Governors Association conference. He would call and say, “Let’s get together, catch up and shoot the breeze totally off the record.”

One hour later, I would have invariably disclosed something and, unbelievably, agreed to let him use it. Just as invariably my disclosure would get me in trouble. For example, at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, David cajoled me into saying that Candidate Obama reminded me of Adlai Stevenson. Though I meant it as a compliment, the Obama campaign, given that Adlai got trounced twice, went ballistic.

Ah, David. Always getting me in trouble, but I will miss him dearly.

ROB PORTMAN

Republican senator from Ohio

In the mid-1990s, David Broder made the trek to Cincinnati to follow me around my district as a new member of the Republican House majority. Happily, I had a full schedule that day, with plenty of constituent contact, including an economic policy speech to a business group. David came to everything, dutifully talking to voters and taking, as he always did, copious notes. I had felt pretty good about the speech, partly because I was trying to impress Broder, the “dean of the Washington press corps.” In the car afterward, I turned to David and asked, “So what’d you think about the speech?” He was expressionless as he gently chided me, “Congressman, I am a reporter, not a political consultant. I don’t have an opinion.” Really refreshing, a reporter through and through.

Fast-forward to five months ago, when I was on the campaign trail again. Broder called to say he wanted to catch up. I was on the run all over northern Ohio. No problem, he said: I will meet you at the end of the day.

When the campaign RV pulled up to the hotel about 9 p.m., David Broder was alone out front, at age 81, waiting for me. Though he had difficulty walking, much less climbing on an RV, he was interested and came aboard. As always, he wanted a feel for the campaign. He was a true reporter first.

TOM VILSACK

Secretary of agriculture; former governor of Iowa

During my first National Governors Association conference, in February 1999, new governors were asked to review their accomplishments to date. Rather than suggest that in a few short weeks I had accomplished anything, I read aloud a letter from a young woman. Her husband was a hog farmer and prices had gone so low that he was unable to make ends meet. He became so distraught at the prospect of losing their farm that he took his own life. The woman was left raising their two young children. She did not want other families to suffer as hers had.

David Broder was there and wrote a column about it. Several days later I received a letter from a well-known figure in the D.C. area who had read David’s column and wanted to help the family. Enclosed was a certified check for $10,000 that I was directed to deliver to the widow. I called and asked if she would come to my office with her children. She broke down and cried when she received the check.

Fast-forward to January 2007. I got a call from the widow, who told me that the check had been invested and had helped pay for college for both of her children.

David Broder understood the power of the press extended beyond informing the public or shaping public opinion. He understood that it also had the capacity to change and improve lives.

MICHAEL O. LEAVITT

Secretary of health and human services and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration

I have a mental gallery of David Broder moments from the past 20 years — watching him teach journalism at the University of Maryland or cover the national governors meetings. But also this:

My nomination for a Cabinet position was stalled by typical partisan Washington gamesmanship. Broder offered in his column the opinion that I should be given the chance to demonstrate my bona fides. A few days later, I expressed my appreciation for his kindness. He responded wryly, “Good, I’ll ask you a favor, then. Don’t do anything that will land you in jail for at least two weeks. That’s about the shelf life of one of my columns.” David Broder was kind, witty and respected.

JANET NAPOLITANO

Secretary of homeland security; former governor of Arizona

I remember my first dinner with David Broder, early in my career, at an Italian restaurant in Phoenix. Going into that meal, I felt a bit awestruck — I was having dinner with the David Broder. (He ordered the cannelloni.)

We talked about the political issues du jour, but the grounds for our friendship were laid when the conversation turned to more important topics: the state of our respective tennis games and how his Cubs and my Diamondbacks were faring.

Over the years, as we met at various events, I always benefited from his insight into the state of politics around the country — he was the rare reporter who got out of D.C. and listened to what was happening in the states. But once we got politics out of the way, our conversations moved to other key issues: his summer place in Michigan; our respective families; and, always, baseball and tennis.

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