The Politics Blog

Here is a round-up of stories on former House Speaker Tom Foley’s death

OlympianOctober 18, 2013 

In this April 6, 2001 file photo, former House Speaker Tom Foley stands outside the federal courthouse in Spokane, Wash.


Spokane Democrat Tom Foley’s death Friday drew an outpouring of comments from political leaders and a great number of good news accounts of the former U.S. House speaker’s long life.

First, from The Associated Press, this excerpt: 

Foley, the first speaker to be booted from office by his constituents since the Civil War, died Friday at the age of 84 of complications from a stroke, according to his wife, Heather.

She said he had suffered a stroke last December and was hospitalized in May with pneumonia. He returned home after a week and had been on hospice care there ever since, she said.

"Foley was very much a believer that the perfect should not get in the way of the achievable," Ms. Foley wrote in a 10-page obituary of her husband. She said he believed that "half of something was better than none."

"There was always another day and another Congress to move forward and get the other half done," she wrote.

From the Washington Post, this excerpt sets off Foley’s flair for compromise sharply from recent congressional events

Mr. Foley was one of Capitol Hill’s most outspoken critics of the extreme partisanship that emerged toward the end of his career, which contributed to his defeat in the 1994 election and has since intensified so dramatically that Congress is often described as “broken.”

He was elected to the House in 1964 and served for 30 of the 40 consecutive years that his party controlled the chamber. Mr. Foley established himself from the outset as a conciliatory figure; one of his first acts after his election victory was to host a reception for the Republican incumbent he defeated to win the seat.

As he rose through the leadership ranks — from majority whip to majority leader and finally to speaker in 1989 — he became known as a consensus builder.

He helped forge a compromise that allowed the deficit-reducing Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation to go through in the mid-1980s. He publicly supported President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, on his controversial economic strategy. During Bill Clinton’s administration, Mr. Foley helped the president win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement despite opposition from many other Democrats.

He was a burly man with a commanding physical presence, but especially as speaker he did not seem to relish power. “There is a degree to which you can sort of push, encourage, support, direct,” he once told the New York Times. “But the Speakership isn’t a dictatorship.”

From The News Tribune and Olympian, Jordan Schrader reported recollections from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, including: 

“Tom Foley believed when the elections were over you put the country’s interest first,” said Dicks, a supporter of Foley’s in the House.

From Jim Camden, writing for Foley’s hometown paper, the Spokane Spokesman-Review

Although Foley was often in the middle of national and international events, he was schooled by his mentors, Scoop Jackson and Sen. Warren Magnuson, in the importance of delivering services to local constituents. One person’s pork, Foley used to say, was another person’s wise investment in the local infrastructure. With him in powerful positions in Congress, Eastern Washington’s infrastructure got repeated investments: Fairchild Air Force Base began its transformation from a World War II era depot to one of the military’s largest and most modern tanker bases. Highway 395 from Ritzville to the Tri-Cities went from a windy road to a four-lane highway. Gonzaga University, which Foley attended briefly, got a new library, which the school named for his parents. Spokane got a paved walking and biking path to Coeur d’Alene to mark the state’s centennial.

From the Seattle Times’ Kyung M. Song and Jim Brunner, this excerpt:

Other than former U.S. Sens. Warren Magnuson and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, few people from the state left a bigger political imprint nationally than Mr. Foley. … 

And this from the Seattle Times:

Mr. Foley left grand physical legacies in his home state. He secured millions of dollars in Congress to erect the U.S. Pavilion for Expo ‘74, the world’s fair held in Spokane. The site was converted to the downtown Riverfront Park. Much later, Mr. Foley steered more federal money to create the Spokane River Centennial Trail near the Expo site.

During the 1960s, Mr. Foley joined with lawmakers from Western states to push for a third power plant at Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, the nation’s largest producer of hydroelectric power.

Mr. Foley believed in abortion rights. He championed the federal food-stamps program and supported Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society agenda combating poverty and racial inequality.

Lastly, from the New York Times’ voluminous news obituary

When Mr. Bush was succeeded by Bill Clinton, a Democrat, Mr. Foley played a central role in winning passage of Mr. Clinton’s 1993 budget plan, which also included tax increases. The measure passed the House, 218 to 216, without a single Republican vote.

And despite a long history of opposing any gun control measures, Mr. Foley helped win House passage of a 1994 ban on assault weapons, which played a major role in the Republican victory that fall. He had been shaken when a troubled Air Force enlisted man went on a shooting rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., killing five people and wounding 22.

He also bucked a majority of House Democrats in supporting Mr. Clinton’s successful effort to win ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But he did not cite any of those measures when asked to reflect on his record in his last news conference, on Nov. 19, 1994.

“If I had one compelling concern in the time that I have been speaker, but previous to that as well,” he said, “it is that we not idly tamper with the Constitution of the United States.”

He had been a fierce opponent of proposed constitutional amendments that would have required a balanced federal budget, term limits for members of Congress and a ban on flag burning, all championed by Republicans. Of the flag-burning measure, he said, “If it is not conservative to protect the Bill of Rights, then I don’t know what conservatism is today.”


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