Politics & Government

Former Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore reveals his Alzheimer's battle

There's a photo of Dennis Moore kneeling next to the hole in Iraq where Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003.

There he is with Fidel Castro, Gen. David Petraeus, Warren Buffett, Carole King — all images from a 12-year career in the U.S. House and all lining the basement study in his Lenexa home.

“I’ve been able to do some amazing things,” the former Kansas congressman said while gazing at the pictures.

But that chapter of his life is over.

On Wednesday, Moore, 66, announced the beginning of a new one involving his fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The six-term member of Congress revealed publicly that he was in the “early phases” of the disease following what he called a final diagnosis in June.

“It is not an easy thing to hear,” he said in an interview with The Kansas City Star. “But this is the hand I have been dealt, and (wife) Stephene and I are committed to using the opportunity we have to help make sure this insidious disease gets more attention.”

Moore is the second local retired member of Congress who has faced an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in recent years. Former U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy of Kansas City, a fellow Democrat, succumbed to the disease in 2010 at age 63.

Moore said he still feels fine. He played the same guitar that accompanied him on so many campaign stops over the years, and reminisced about White House dinners, his visit to Ground Zero in New York City just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Then there was the time he handed President George W. Bush his granddaughter, who promptly burst into tears.

Moore said his father also suffered from Alzheimer’s.

“It’s genetics,” he said. “I guess I maybe should have expected it.”

He had an initial consultation in February 2011, just a month after he retired from Congress.

He had noticed he was forgetting the names of people he hadn’t seen for a few months, or where he had placed things. That was followed by diagnostic testing and neurological evaluations in Kansas City and St. Louis before the final diagnosis in June.

“It is just something you have to deal with,” he said. “It’s a part of life.”

Moore said the disease is spreading slowly and insisted it did not affect him during his final years in Congress.

A former Johnson County district attorney, Moore no longer is practicing law.

He said he’s eager to devote his time to causes such as Alzheimer’s support groups or other services for seniors. More than 5 million Americans suffer from the disease.

“I still think I have some contributions I can make,” he said.

Moore said the final years in Congress were difficult because of the intense partisanship that gripped the chamber. The disbanding of the bipartisan Center Aisle Caucus was a particular disappointment because the group sought to bridge the divide between the parties largely through social occasions.

“I thought, ‘I don’t need this anymore,’ ” Moore said. “It got horrible up there.”

The 12 years in the House matched his 12 years as district attorney. Both tenures were long enough, he said.

The partisanship in the House ground him down. So did the travel and the every-two-years congressional campaigns, which found him matched against such Republicans as Kris Kobach, Adam Taff, Vince Snowbarger and Phill Kline.

Moore beat them all, narrowly, but enjoyed easier victories toward the end of his career. He won his last election against Republican Nick Jordan in 2008 by a margin of 56 percent to 40 percent.

He now wishes he had pushed for a constitutional amendment providing for four-year House terms. The two-year cycle is simply too demanding, he said.

“There was no break for Dennis Moore,” Stephene Moore said of the campaigns.

Moore was first elected to Congress in 1998.

He was considered a generally reliable Democratic vote — a source of some frustration to Republicans in the 3rd District. His reputation as a prosecutor often helped defray criticism of his voting record.

He cast a series of controversial votes in his last term, including one for the health care reform package and environmental legislation known as cap-and-trade. Those votes, some believed, might have caused him problems in his district, which narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but is generally considered moderate to conservative.

He said he is especially proud of two bills he pushed that became law. One has the government — instead of soldiers themselves — paying for domestic flights back home when they return to the U.S. on leave.

The other involved increasing the death benefit for the families of fallen soldiers from what Moore termed a paltry $12,420 to $100,000.

Both measures attracted strong bipartisan support.

These days, his challenge is to stay busy and to exercise, which is thought to be helpful in warding off the effects of Alzheimer’s, said his wife, who sought to succeed her husband in 2010, but lost to Republican Kevin Yoder.

“I think we’re dealing with it good,” Stephene Moore said. “Dennis and I are both fighters up for a challenge if we’ve got one, and this is a big challenge. We’ll be fine. We’re going to make the best out of this we can. It’s by not hiding.”

To read more, visit www.kansascity.com.