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    3/8/2010
    Where is former U.S. Senator Bob Kasten?

    Neil Shively
    Courtesy of WisPolitics.com, March 5, 2010.

    Robert W. Kasten Jr. was a major player on the Wisconsin political scene in the 1970s, ‘80s and into the '90s before Russ Feingold retired him from the U.S. Senate after two terms.

    Elected to the Wisconsin Senate in 1972 and moving on to the U.S. House of Representatives four years later, Kasten was the presumptive Republican nominee for governor in 1978 before Lee S. Dreyfus caused a stumble in his career path.

    But he bounced up and upset the indomitable Democrat Gaylord A. Nelson in the 1980 election headlined by Ronald Reagan and served 12 years before Feingold upset him.

    Bob Kasten is still in Washington, however -- and in New York City, and Egypt and the Middle East. And he's still a major player, though now in the field of defense contracting using lessons he learned in the Senate. Heard of Oshkosh Corp.'s bonanza with billions in defense contracts? Well, Kasten helped stimulate deals for Oshkosh with foreign nations, such as Egypt. One bonus: last month, Kasten, his wife and young son were riding camels in the shadow of the great pyramids near Cairo.

    He's president of his own international business consulting firm, Kasten & Co., and a managing member of Talos Partners, a merchant bank in New York City.

    “Two days a week, I’m in New York City, and the remainder of time I’m here in D.C. and Georgetown,” where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and son, Robbie.

    “My business is not so much a lobbying business. When I was in the Senate, I was chairman of the sub-committee on foreign operations, security and economics,” he said, offering the path to his business today. “We (the U.S.) give large numbers of military and economic aid … $1 billion to Egypt, for example.

    “So I work for U.S. businesses and try to help them sell to Egypt and other countries in the Middle East,” he said.

    Talos specializes in technology companies and “a lot of very good companies that had lost a lot of value -- good companies gone down. Talos was formed to take advantage of these opportunities,” he said, citing a $700 million investment in a small Spanish company and firms in Brazil.

    “I’ve kind of gone back to what I thought I was going to do when I graduated from Columbia with an MBA,” he said.

    “So from time to time, I’ve done some lobbying and government consulting, but the bulk of my business is with foreign military and economic sales,” he said.

    Kasten is 67 but not about to retire.

    “With a 9-year-old son, I’ve got a ways to retirement. There’s squash, basketball and lacrosse.” Robbie is a third-grader at Beauvoir School on the National Cathedral campus in D.C. Sarah, a New York art dealer, married Kasten 10 years ago. She still has the business and a gallery at 79th and Madison. Kasten also has a 22-year-old daughter from his first marriage. Nora is a junior at Penn State.

    Last month, he was in Egypt for a week, but on duty for the American University in Cairo Board of Trustees, whose work is a favorite subject.

    “The American University in Cairo is like an island of hope, of dreams in a whole sea of hopelessness” around Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon, Kasten said. “I share that hope, and through education we can make a huge, huge difference. I wish more of our efforts were spent on education and less on pamphlets (propaganda).” AU has 4,000 undergraduate students, there are Jews on the faculty, it’s been around for 90 years and has alumni in 120 countries, he said.

    Kasten was back in the state earlier this winter, speaking at a fundraiser for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the GOP frontrunner for governor this year.

    “I will continue to do more, and I think he has an excellent opportunity to be Wisconsin’s next governor,'' says Kasten, noting he’s passed along his “decentralizing political campaign” strategy of working hard in districts that supposedly can't be won.

    He also remembers fondly the 1973 budget conference committee that “met on Dale Cattanch’s back porch.” Cattanach was Legislative Fiscal Bureau director, and that budget produced Wisconsin's landmark tax exemption for manufacturing equipment, which was initially proposed in a Senate bill Kasten authored.

    Kasten said he has been alerted by Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, of a Senate alumni reunion this spring. “He’s trying to get the gang together,'' Kasten said. “I’m going to try to be there. I remember and treasure the time I spent in the Wisconsin State Senate. Life was a little bit simpler then and much more collegial.”

    Shively is the retired former Capitol bureau chief for the old Milwaukee Sentinel.





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