Cover Story

Litigator with a cause

Issue: "Aging in place," March 31, 2001

Ken Connor seems to work in reverse. As an attorney in Florida, he helped put eldercare issues on the national political map. Now, as the new president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., he's trying to sell the issue to a constituency that might have been seen as a natural starting point: evangelical Christians.

"It's about reaching out with a cup of cold water, doing what Christ insisted was 'true religion,'" he explained from his new office at the edge of Washington's bustling Chinatown neighborhood. "Just because a person costs more to maintain than they are producing, doesn't mean that they have a negative net worth. I think it's a Darwinian mindset that as your health and mental capacity diminish, so does your dignity or your worth. We've got to change that mindset."

Until last fall, Mr. Connor's own mindset was focused on a political career in Florida. When FRC came calling, he said, "I didn't sleep for three weeks. It was really a big struggle for me." And no wonder: Mr. Connor was already at the top of his profession. By winning multi-million dollar settlements against some of the nation's largest nursing home chains, he had helped spotlight a little-known problem. Congress and state legislatures soon stepped in with reforms designed to protect both seniors and taxpayers from unscrupulous chains.

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His success as a litigator made him personally wealthy and politically powerful in Florida, where he was planning a run for state attorney general when FRC asked him to take the helm. Based just on the numbers, it didn't look like a very attractive offer: A move to Washington would mean "Ten percent of the pay, double the cost of living, and half the standard of living," he joked.

In the end, however, FRC's reputation lured him from his comfortable life in Tallahassee. "FRC's platform in shaping the public conversation is broader than just about any public office I could have run for," he reasoned.

He ticked off the legislative priorities that he'll continue from Gary Bauer's long tenure at FRC: sanctity of life, defense of marriage, parental prerogatives in education, tax breaks for families. But there will be new emphases as well. Eldercare, of course, will move near the top of the agenda. As an adoptive parent, Mr. Connor also wants to push a national adoption initiative that would qualify more children for adoption, increase public awareness of the issue, and encourage corporate incentives for adoption assistance.

"Just because a child isn't wanted by someone doesn't mean he isn't wanted by anyone," Mr. Connor said. "Feminists talk about pro-choice, but we don't have to choose between a woman and a child-our hearts are big enough to love them both."

Finally, Mr. Connor wants FRC to "conduct a national civics lesson on the dangers of judicial activism ... Unelected, unaccountable judges undermine our republican institutions and violate the separation of powers." He wants conservatives in Congress to more aggressively block activist judges, and he wants voters to hold their lawmakers accountable. "Congress should feel the heat if they won't see the light," he said.

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