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Ex-House Speaker Tom Foley dies at 84

October 18, 2013 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tom Foley, the courtly former speaker of the U.S. House who lost his seat when Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 84.

His wife, Heather, said the former speaker had suffered the 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 also served as U.S. ambassador to Japan for four years in the Clinton administration. A longtime Japan scholar, Foley had been a frequent visitor to that nation, in part to promote the farm products his district produces.


“Diplomacy is not, frankly, very different” from the deal-making, consensus and common courtesy that a successful politician needs, he said.

He served 30 years in the U.S. House, including more than five years as speaker.

The Democrat, who had never served a single day in the minority, was ousted by a smooth young lawyer, Republican George Nethercutt, who won by 4,000 votes in the mostly rural, heavily Republican district in the eastern part of the Pacific Northwest state of Washington.

Foley wasn’t the victim of scandal or charges of gross incompetence. Instead, his ability as speaker to bring home federal benefits was a point Nethercutt used against him, accusing him of pork-barrel politics.

The public was restless that year, and the mood was dark and angry, Foley recalled later. The electorate turned on many of the Democrats it had installed in a landslide just two years earlier, dumping six congressmen in the Democrat-favored Washington state.

He was replaced as speaker by his nemesis, Georgia Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich, who later called Washington state the “ground zero” of the sweep that gave Republicans their first control of the House in 40 years. Foley, it turned out, was their prize casualty.

In a 2004 Associated Press interview, Foley said, after Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost his seat, that the same factors hurt them both: Voters did not appreciate the value of service as party leader, and rural voters were turning against Democrats.

“We need to examine how we are responding to this division ... particularly the sense in some rural areas that the Democratic Party is not a party that respects faith or family or has respect for values. I think that’s wrong, but it’s a dangerous perception if it develops as it has,” he told the AP.


Republicans kept Foley’s old seat, even in 2006 when the national tide swung back and Democrats retook a majority in the House, and in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. As a party “superdelegate,” Foley had remained uncommitted during Obama’s presidential primary battle with Hillary Clinton but eventually endorsed Obama in June 2008.