Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2014, 10:53 am

Cokie Roberts to show her cards at WVIK gala

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Photo: Submitted
Cokie Roberts will speak at a gala fundraiser for WVIK Augustana Public Radio on March 27, at Hotel Blackhawk, Davenport.
Congress may be mired in hyper-partisanship, but at least it's not "House of Cards" bad, according to Cokie Roberts, who knows a thing or three about Washington's ways.

The 70-year-old National Public Radio veteran -- and New Orleans daughter of two Congressional representatives -- will discuss the U.S. political climate on Thursday, March 27, on behalf of WVIK, Augustana Public Radio, for a gala fundraising dinner at the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport.

While President Obama is a fan of the Netflix series "House of Cards," which portrays a corrupt, cynical federal government and the murderous machinations of a power-hungry vice president (played by Kevin Spacey), Ms. Roberts said this week she's only seen one episode. "It's much darker than the reality," she said. The president has said he wished D.C. was "that ruthlessly efficient."

Congress' public approval rating remains abysmally low, but the "Morning Edition" contributor thinks partisan gridlock is not worse than it's ever been.

Ms. Roberts cited the January budget agreement that averted another government shutdown, which "was basically hammered out by women in both parties." Do women just get along better than men in politics? "Their emphasis is on getting things done rather than fighting about it, and that I think is a salutary view," she said.

"Women come together less along ideological and more pragmatic lines," Ms. Roberts said, noting female politicians (especially in the Senate) are "setting a much better example than most of the politicians in Washington today."

Long-simmering battles between the parties are forcing many D.C. veterans to hang it up, she said, lamenting Monday's announcement that Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, 87, will retire at the end of this term — his 29th full one — partly because of his continued frustration over partisan gridlock.

He told the Detroit News: "I find serving in the House to be obnoxious. It's become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets."

Top House Democrats Henry Waxman and George Miller, of California, and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a respected Democrat with 35 years of experience, also are retiring.

"We're losing people who are experts in the field," Ms. Roberts said.

Congress during the time of her father, the late Rep. Hale Boggs (who served from 1947 to 1972), was "a very different environment," she said. There was much more cooperation and civility in those years, she noted. Following her father's disappearance in a plane over Alaska, Ms. Roberts' mother, Lindy Boggs, served in Congress from 1973 to 1991.

Though she didn't go into politics, Ms. Roberts still feels she's performed a public service. "My one consolation is I made it possible for voters to understand what's going on through the years," she said.

With more than 40 years in broadcasting, Ms. Roberts has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was recognized by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting.

She was an NPR congressional correspondent for more than 10 years. From 1996 to 2002, she and Sam Donaldson co-anchored the Sunday ABC interview program "This Week." At ABC, she's been a political reporter, host and analyst, winning three Emmys. In 2008, the Library of Congress named her a "Living Legend," one of few Americans to attain that honor.

Ms. Roberts -- with her husband, Steven Roberts -- writes a nationally-syndicated weekly newspaper column. They are contributing editors to USA Weekend magazine and together wrote "From this Day Forward," an account of their more than 40-year marriage and other marriages in American history.

Ms. Roberts' other books include "We Are Our Mothers' Daughters," an account of women's roles and relationships throughout American history; "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation," and "Ladies of Liberty." She recently released her latest book, "Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies," a picture book for children which highlights female patriots of the American Revolution.

It's a good way to get kids interested in history. "That's my goal," Ms. Roberts said. She is looking forward to the possibility of Hillary Clinton ascending to the White House in 2016. "Would I like to see a woman president before I die? Yes."

Ms. Roberts will be the first in a series of NPR reporter/anchors to visit WVIK (the Quad-Cities NPR station) once a year to bolster community support for public radio, said station development director Jennifer Blohm. Ticket sales and additional donations will go toward funding general operations of WVIK, which has seen declining government funding over the years, she said.

"We want to be out in the community more," Ms. Blohm said, noting this fundraiser is part of a new WVIK marketing campaign. "We're looking for new innovative approaches to grow legs of different support. Our underwriting support (from corporations and nonprofits) is growing, and membership. We're looking to find ways to go to where need to be, for long-time sustainability."

Ms. Roberts was the station's first pick to come speak and she will be in the Quad-Cities for more than 24 hours. She will be interviewed on WVIK, will spend time with Augustana students and health care professionals from UnityPoint Health-Trinity on Augustana's campus, and she'll join the congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport on March 28 to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

"We were kind of amazed she said yes right away," Ms. Blohm said. "We thought it was going to be really hard. We were kind of blown away she said yes."

Ms. Roberts said she speaks at several NPR affiliates each year, and it's a good way to boost giving and listeners to the stations. "People are eager to be supportive; they just need to know how," she said. "It's another way to get people engaged."


If you go

-- What: An Evening With Cokie Roberts (fundraiser for WVIK public radio)
-- When: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 27.
-- Where: The Gold Room, Hotel Blackhawk, 200 E. 3rd St., Davenport.
-- Tickets: $100 per person (including dinner and two drinks, with cash bar), available at wvik.org or 309-794-7552. The registration deadline is March 19.