Jack Kemp

July 13, 1935 -  May 2, 2009


The Honorable Jack Kemp, Co-Director, Empower America
(former Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
and former Member of Congress)


Jack Kemp, Who Dealt Supply-Side Gospel, Dies at 73

By Laurence Arnold

May 3, 2009 (Bloomberg) -- Jack Kemp, the quarterback-turned- congressman who contributed early intellectual rigor and a dollop of star power to Republican-led “supply-side” tax cutting in the 1980s, died last night. He was 73.

“Jack Kemp passed away peacefully shortly after 6 o’clock this evening,” Marci Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Kemp family, said by phone yesterday. “During the treatment of his cancer, Jack expressed his gratitude for the thoughts and prayers of so many friends, a gratitude which the Kemp family shares.”

Kemp, a resident of Bethesda, Maryland, disclosed in January 2009 that he was being treated for cancer.

A Republican who represented a blue-collar district, an advocate of racial reconciliation and urban redevelopment along with low taxes, Kemp called himself a “bleeding-heart conservative” and wielded an independent streak that made him hard to label.

President Barack Obama, in a statement issued by the White House today, said Kemp was “a man who could fiercely advocate his own beliefs and principles while also remembering the lessons he learned years earlier on the football field: That bitter divisiveness between race and class and station only stood in the way of the common aim of a team to win.”

Tax-Cut Leader

For two decades, before, during and after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, he was a field general for tax-cutters in their battles with budget-deficit hawks. Kemp insisted tax cuts provided fuel for government spending, so that the two were not mutually exclusive.

Kemp “was to Reaganomics what Eli Whitney was to mass production,” conservative author William Buckley once wrote.

Kemp represented suburban Buffalo, New York, in Congress from 1971 to 1989, following a football career that ended with the Buffalo Bills. After an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1988, he served four years as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

When Bob Dole, no hero to tax-cutters, sought to expand his appeal in an uphill challenge to President Bill Clinton in 1996, he picked Kemp as his vice presidential running mate. The selection energized the Republican Party’s tax-cutting wing but couldn’t spare Dole a lopsided loss.

Kemp’s claim to political fame stemmed from his 1977 partnership with Senator William Roth, a Delaware Republican, to propose an across-the-board income-tax reduction of 30 percent over three years.

Supply-Side Economics

The Kemp-Roth plan had its origin in Kemp’s discussions with Jude Wanniski, the one-time Wall Street Journal editorial writer who spread the gospel of what he called supply-side economics. That theory held that government could spur growth -- and actually increase the revenue flowing into its coffers -- by cutting marginal tax rates, especially for those who produce goods and services.

Throughout the late 1970s, Kemp was “a tireless, itinerant preacher of tax reduction gospel to party audiences, business groups and even labor audiences,” Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote in “The Reagan Revolution” (1981).

Kemp’s message resonated with blue-collar audiences because it promised more economic growth without a tradeoff of fewer government services. As Evans and Novak put it, “For the first time in a half century, a Republican had a positive response to big-government liberalism.”

Reagan Plan

Reagan adopted Kemp-Roth -- plus three years of breaks on business taxes -- as the economic plan of his triumphant 1980 presidential campaign. The Economic Recovery Tax Act, which Reagan signed in 1981, cut marginal tax rates by 25 percent over three years (Reagan compromised on the final 5 percent) and also lowered capital gains taxes.

Reagan’s budget chief, David Stockman, quickly turned on supply-side economics. He said the benefits would only “trickle down” to the non-wealthy and that Kemp-Roth “was always a Trojan horse” for accomplishing the primary goal, bringing down the top income-tax rate to 50 percent from 70 percent.

Kemp, by contrast, remained a true believer.

“A decade of unprecedented job creation, entrepreneurship and prosperity has vindicated our formula for economic growth,” Kemp said at a 1991 celebration of Kemp-Roth sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative organization. “It still astounds me to recall the arrogance with which liberals attacked our proposal to lower tax rates on workers and investors.”

Race Relations

Kemp found a link between his longtime interest in race relations and his passion for tax policy. He said modern-day black entrepreneurs deserved the same low taxes that were in place when the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Mellons made their fortunes.

He supported statehood for the District of Columbia and worked with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

Jack French Kemp was born on July 13, 1935, in Los Angeles, the third of four boys. His mother, Frances, was a social worker. His father, Paul, ran a small trucking company.

He majored in physical education and was a football star at Occidental College in Los Angeles, graduating in 1957.

Kemp’s pro football career began slowly. Drafted by the Detroit Lions of the National Football League, he was cut before the 1957 season began, then went on to play four games with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a year in the U.S. Army, he joined the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League. He returned to the U.S. in 1960, joining the Los Angeles Chargers, then part of the American Football League, one year before the team relocated to San Diego.

Signed by Buffalo

The Bills, also part of the AFL, signed him in 1962. Kemp played in every game for Buffalo from 1963 through 1969, leading the team to the league championship in 1964 and 1965. He retired in 1969 as one of the young franchise’s first true stars.

Kemp co-founded the AFL’s player union and served as its president for five years. He worked as a special assistant to Reagan -- then California’s governor -- in 1967, and for the Republican National Committee in 1969.

He ran for Congress in 1970 in the New York congressional district that included suburban Buffalo, a traditionally Democratic area where Kemp, a Republican, was a hero from his football days.

In Congress, Kemp “came to believe that government was overtaxing productive (i.e. rich) people -- killing the geese that laid the golden eggs,” according to a profile in the Almanac of American Politics.

Presidential Race

Kemp sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, calling for free trade, returning the U.S. to the gold standard and deploying Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. He won just 39 delegates and finished fourth behind George H.W. Bush, who went on to win the presidency.

Kemp’s legendary verbosity and lack of discipline contributed to his poor showing. “Jack was a totally unmanageable candidate,” Ed Rollins, one of his campaign consultants, wrote in a memoir. “I call it the quarterback mentality. Quarterbacks always think they can make the big play and resent being controlled by anyone.”

As Bush’s HUD secretary from 1989 to 1993, Kemp became a leading supporter of urban “enterprise zones,” which used tax breaks to lure businesses to inner cities. A better advocate than nuts-and-bolts implementer, Kemp failed to get enterprise zones enacted. (Only under Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, did Congress create a federal version of the program that had begun at the state and local levels.) Nor could Kemp win approval of his idea to sell public housing units to the tenants living in them.

Dole’s Running Mate

Kemp opted against a second run for president in 1996 but asserted himself in making sure tax cuts remained high on the Republican agenda. He did that by endorsing Steve Forbes and his flat-tax proposal even as Dole was closing in on clinching the Republican presidential nomination.

Still, Dole tapped Kemp as his running mate in an attempt to close a 20 percentage point deficit to Clinton in polls. The Dole-Kemp team went on to lose by 8.5 percentage points.

Kemp was founder and chairman of Washington-based Kemp Partners, a consulting firm.

He and his wife, Joanne, whom he met in college and married in 1958, had four children and 17 grandchildren. Their sons both played professional quarterback, Jim in the CFL, Jeff for 11 seasons in the NFL.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: May 3, 2009 12:36 EDT

About Empower America

Empower America Organization

The Jefferson Report - 1996

1996 - Jack Kemp in Support of Israel Jubilee Policy on Economic Growth

Aug. 11, 1996 - Kemp has a few words to swallow about Bob Dole



April, 1997 - Global Warming and Other Myths

1997 - Jack Kemp on global Warming


Environmentalists opposed to the treaty say that those who do believe in global warming continue to hope that proof is just around the corner.

Sources: Jack Kemp (Empower America), "A Treaty Built on Hot Air... " and S. Fred Singer, "... Not Scientific Consensus," both from the Wall Street Journal, July 25, 1997.


Bailing Out Bankers

January, 1998 - Bigger questions were posed by Jack Kemp on Dec. 18 in a two-page memo to congressional Republican leaders. The Asian economic crisis, he said, "represents an opportunity for the IMF and World Bank to expand their reach and leverage by orders of magnitude. ... The IMF should not be permitted to use the economies of Asia as its latest experimental subjects for failed policies of the past."



In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Monday, the 1996 vice presidential candidate declared: "At some point in the distant future -- after we have reached a reasonable level of comfort through a successful inspections process -- we must be willing to lift the sanctions and rely on deterrents to ensure that any weapons we may have missed will never be used."

Kemp also courageously suggested what has been clear worldwide but not uttered by U.S. officials or members of Congress. Kemp said that based upon Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's statements, he could give credence to the interpretation that "our demand for unfettered and unlimited access to the so-called presidential palaces was merely a pretext for escalating the conflict."


Killing the Tax Cut

June 6, 1998 - Jack Kemp, trying to restore the supply-side spirit, told Kasich that $100 billion in tax cuts were "minuscule" considering the $1 trillion surplus expected over five years. Kasich moved to use some of this surplus to cut the payroll tax and open new "personal" taxpayer accounts as a start to privatizing Social Security. While not nearly the broad-based tax cut Kemp wanted, it had the advantage of being supported by Speaker Newt Gingrich.


September 1, 1998. America the Vulnerable and Missile Defenses


Statement by the Honorable Jack Kemp, Co-Director, Empower America
Testimony Before the House Committee on Ways and Means
Hearing on Preserving and Strengthening Social Security
January 21, 1999



January 21, 1999 Some years ago, former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp opened an address to a national convention of the NAACP by apologizing for not having been a participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But, he added, apologies are not enough.


February 3, 1999 - Jack Kemp on the African Growth and Opportunity Act


April, 1999 - Pro-Green, Pro-Growth: A Q&A with Jack Kemp

The whole accord is premised on the notion that man-made warming of the climate on our planet has been going on during the Industrial Age. Now, we don't know that. We have no idea if that's true or not. There's a lot of reason to think it's not true because the climate record shows that a lot of the warming in this century predated the introduction of the internal combustion engine into widespread use, which appears to be a return to more normal temperatures after an unusually cool historical period. If that's so, then it's not likely that fossil fuels emissions – from burning oil and gas and coal — have a lot to do with whatever is going on in the climate.

Second, even if the world is warming, is it warming so fast that it's causing problems? Or is it possibly even an economic positive? We don't know. It might actually be a plus for the economy, or it might be a wash.

So we don't really know if global warming is really occurring; if it is, we don't know if it has anything to do with fossil fuels. And we don't know if any of this would have a positive or negative economic impact. All the legs on which the Kyoto accord is built are wobbly; it's built on a fragile chain of reasoning in which every link is weak.


April 29, 1999 - Jack Kemp Named Distinguised Fellow At Competitive Enterprise Institute

Mr. Kemp will work primarily on promoting rational, free-market environmental policies and on raising awareness of international efforts to restrict economic growth.


CEI SAYS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to peddle unfounded fears about global warming and sea level rise even though there is no evidence to support such scares, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). This week the EPA is sponsoring conferences in Miami and Marathon, Florida to discuss the impacts of global warming on Southern Florida and the Florida Keys, and to discuss solutions to the alleged problem.


CEI: May 6, 1999 -  Blasts EPA’s "Worst Case Scenario" Info Release

CEI: May 25, 1999 -Sea Level Debate is Flooded with Misinformation



June 7, 1999 - Houghton Lake Rotary club

June 9, 1999 - Jack Kemp on Justice


August 10, 1999 - The Debate On American Poverty: Aid To Neighborhoods Or People? Fighting crime, fixing roads and schools key, experts say. But they agree on little else

The government offers tax breaks and other funding to these empowerment zones, or enterprise zones, to encourage businesses to set up shop there. The idea appeals to many conservatives. Supply-sider Jack Kemp has long touted enterprise zones to encourage self-reliance.

Nov. 12, 1999 - Jack Kemp Against the Internet Tax - Jack Kemp Applauds Governor Gilmore’s Tax Leadership , Washington, DC, November. 12, 1999 -- Empower America Co-Director Jack Kemp praised Virginia Governor James Gilmore for taking a strong stand against regulation and taxation of the booming online market.

Nov. 12, 199 - Jack Kemp Criticizes Tax Proposals


"There are no limits on our future if we don't put limits on our people."-Jack Kemp, April 6, 1987.



By the mid-'80s, conservative intellectuals like Charles Murray (in his pre-Bell Curve days) and conservative politicians like Jack Kemp began to argue that the poor were as competent as anyone else--but restrained by artificial disadvantage. Only in their view, the artificial disadvantage was anti-poverty programs like welfare--"the liberal Government plantation," as Kemp liked to say. Abolish these programs, conservatives said--and the poor will flourish like anyone else.



1999 - Former Secretary of Housing, Jack Kemp stated, "Some of the interesting statistics of the trip are: Trade with Africa has grown by 32.1% over the last three years, which is on par with total U.S. Trade expansion during the same period. U.S. investments in the sub-Saharan Region has by far the highest rate of return with 31% in 1996, compared with Latin America (12%), the Asia-Pacific Region (13%) and the Middle East (17%). Sub-Saharan African constitutes a market of over 600-million people, a vast, tremendously untapped resource that would react most favorably to a U.S.-African trade partnership." As one of the luncheon speakers, he pledged to be a voice to the American people and the U.S. Congress urging positive action on seven fronts that will help create a U.S. African partnership for the 21st Century. He stated that, "I believe America must enter the next millennium with a firm commitment to the principles of democracy and growth and give hope and opportunity to the people of African and countless people around the world for democratization, open trade and rising prosperity".


National ID Card Now Legal

Fearing that all Americans were about to be digitally tattooed under the government's paranoiac guise of catching everything from aliens to dead beat dads, Congressman Dick Armey (R-TX) was one of the first to voice his opinion. Armey called the move, "an abomination and wholly at odds with the American tradition of individual freedom." Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) joined Armey in signing a letter denouncing the computer registry and tracking system and Jack Kemp announced in the New York Times that this was, "an anti-privacy, anti-business and anti-American approach" and that "it was no way to run immigration policy." Of course, all this was said before the bills were covertly inserted in the last defense bill. It is possiable that many congressmen don't even know the proposed legislation has become law.


.1999 -  As Jack Kemp of Empower America puts it, "Quite simply, NATO miscalculated." The blunders and miscalculations by all parties continue. "Make no mistake. Once we go in, there is no coming out," he warns.



NPR's John Nielsen reports on Jack Kemp's ideas for attacking the problems of central cities, ideas that go back to his days as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush administration. Morning Edition, August 29.

Hear this story



The 1999 Federal Budget


1996 GOP Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp "said his very close friends in the congressional GOP leadership ‘have squandered [Ronald Reagan's] bequest to the party of Lincoln.’ Although Republican candidates across the country campaign for tax cuts, Kemp said, ‘voters may think a political party whose leaders are unwilling to risk losing a vote on principle once it is in office is unworthy of winning the next election.’"


All Things Considered (NPR) August 29, 1996

Segment # 6 : Kemp Has Long-Held Belief in Revitalizing Inner Cities

ALEX CHADWICK, Host: While he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush administration, Jack Kemp launched a series of programs to overhaul the nation's public housing system and lure businesses to inner cities, though critics say the reform efforts never achieved much.

NPR's John Nielsen reports.

JOHN NIELSEN, Reporter: For years, Jack Kemp has been urging his fellow Republicans to pay more attention of the problems of cities and the people who live in them. At the Republican convention in San Diego, he turned that plea into a promise.

JACK KEMP (R), Vice Presidential Nominee: -the American society, as a whole, that never achieved the outer reaches of its potential, so long as it tolerates the inner cities of despair. And I can tell you that Bob Dole and Jack Kemp will not tolerate that despair in our nation's cities.

JOHN NIELSEN: As an urban congressman and then as George Bush's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Kemp gained fame by pushing ambitious proposals to overhaul the federal government's principal urban aid programs. Conservative urban activist Robert Woodson [sp], a friend and a colleague, says Kemp did it because he was convinced that these programs had become a burden to the people who depended on them.

ROBERT WOODSON, Conservative Urban Activist: Jack Kemp really believes that people should be agents of their own revitalization, their own restoration, and therefore they must be given the tools and the means to reclaim their own lives and reclaim their own communities.

JOHN NIELSEN: In Congress, Kemp pushed a series of bills that would have slashed federal taxes in urban enterprise zones designed to lure new investors into depressed urban centers. As HUD secretary he tried to encourage residents of public housing to purchase their apartment as a first step towards privatization of the public housing system. At congressional hearings through the '80s and into the '90s, Kemp made it clear that few issues were more important to him than these.

JACK KEMP: And I think it's immoral - I think it's immoral to preach democracy and capitalism in Eastern Europe and not allow it to work in Eastern New York or East St. Louis or East L.A.

JOHN NIELSEN: Attitudes like these helped earn Kemp the respect of civil rights leaders and some urban activists, but they didn't do much for the proposed reforms. Bills that would have slashed taxes in enterprise zones were viewed very skeptically by Democratic Congresses and many of Kemp's colleagues inside the Bush administration. At the same time, Kemp's plan to encourage residents of public housing to buy their apartments seemed to fizzle for more basic reasons.

Cushing Dolbear [sp], former director of the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition, says most of the potential buyers in this situation lacked the money and the interest. Dolbear says one public housing tenant explained it to her this way.

CUSHING DOLBEAR, Former Director, National Low-Income Housing Coalition: ``Aren't you ever going to learn that when we buy- if we ever get so we can buy houses, we're not going to buy this junk?''

JOHN NIELSEN: Richard Cowden [sp], the director of a group of state and local officials who've set up local enterprise zones, says it may be fortunate that Kemp never succeeded in setting up a national version of this program. Cowden says he and others tried to convince Kemp that tax cuts alone weren't enough to draw new investors to depressed urban centers, but Kemp wouldn't hear it, he says. As a result-

RICHARD COWDEN, Local Enterprise Zone Advocate: Practically everybody who knows something about urban economics and public administration regards him as naive.

JOHN NIELSEN: But Kemp's attempts to reform federal urban aid programs did catch the eye of the Clinton administration. President Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, says people who live in public housing are still being encouraged to buy their apartments as part of a larger overhaul of the public housing system, and Kemp's proposed enterprise zones are the obvious model for the Clinton administration's empowerment zone program which tries to lure investors with limited tax breaks and federal aid packages. The Clinton administration is expected to expand this program soon.

If and when that happens, it's not clear how the Dole-Kemp ticket will respond. But Cushing Dolbear, a critic of many of Kemp's ideas, insists that for now that's not important. What's important, Dolbear says, is that for the first time in decades an urban policy argument may help shape a national election. These are issues that many voters have learned to avoid, Dolbear says.

CUSHING DOLBEAR: What people don't realize is, that there's increasing evidence that, if the city really dies, the metropolitan area doesn't thrive either, and so the people who are now living comfortable suburban lives - their children may not live quite such comfortable lives if we don't pay attention to what's happening to the centers of our urban areas.

JOHN NIELSEN: One possible barrier to the emergence of urban revival as a major campaign issue is the Republican presidential nominee. As a senator, Bob Dole was openly skeptical of Kemp's proposals.

I'm John Nielsen in Washington.

[This program has been professionally transcribed by Journal Graphics. JG has used its best efforts to assure the transcript accurately reflects NPR's original broadcast, but makes no guarantees or representations that the transcription is identical to the original NPR broadcast. The official record of an NPR broadcast is the audio tape of the original broadcast.]

Issues '96 | NPR | The New York Times

Copyright 1996 National Public Radio


By Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich - 1996

To help make this vision a reality, we named Jack Kemp, one of America's most innovative thinkers on economic policy, to head the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform -- a commission that included thirteen more outstanding Americans.

The entire commission worked diligently for the past several months, holding public hearings in eight cities, while constantly thinking about how to create a better tax system. Their final report is guaranteed to stimulate this important national dialogue. It will surely serve as a catalyst for congressional hearings and debate. We hope that it will also trigger conversations around kitchen tables, water coolers, and in town hall meetings across the country.

We invite all those who read this report to write us with your thoughts on its recommendations and conclusions, and to share with us other suggestions on how we can create a tax system that promotes economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.

Senate Leader Bob Dole

House Speaker Newt Gingrich