With U.S. Sen. Dan Coats’ announcement last week that he won’t seek re-election, my mind immediately went to the days we spent on the road together in 2010.
I was struggling to find a job for over a year, caught between a bad economy and a politically polarized country, when the opportunity to work for a U.S. Senate campaign in North Dakota appeared. I was in the midst of planning my move to Bismarck, a city I had never laid eyes on, when another offer, one that would allow me to stay closer to home, came.
Looking back, there was no better decision than working for Coats. I learned more about Indiana in those nine months on the road than I had in my previous 27 years on Earth. He remembered every back road and small town. He could look up from reading an email and immediately recognize the location and direct our way to a unique shop or diner. Sometimes, for fun, he would switch the GPS language setting to “German” to test whether he still had a command of the language from his tenure as ambassador there. He did.
It was during those days that I not only got to know Coats as the statesman he has long been, but I also got to know him as a person. For someone who has held many important positions during his career – congressman, senator and ambassador – he was just a regular guy. Most days in the car were normal, but he also got angry – twice. Once was when I fouled something up. The other time was when I informed him Duke had received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Talk about upset.
I also saw up close his amazing sense of humor. It was like talking to one of my high school or college buddies. We would riff on a joke that would go on long past it was actually funny anymore. And, like those same friends, he enjoyed poking fun at me in private and public. Coats once told a group I was “the office piñata. You come in, take a whack, and go about your day.”
When I asked him if I could attend the 2010 World Series, which required slipping out of town unnoticed the weekend prior to the election, his response was simply, “Take me with you.”
We’re lucky to have Coats in the Senate for another two years. His career is one that anyone who aspires to public service can look to for guidance. He has been a great senator and statesman, but most importantly to me, a friend. Thank you, Dan.