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Bridget Johnson

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October 18, 2013 - 12:20 pm

Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Wash.), who was the first speaker to lose re-election since the Civil War, died at age 84 of complications from a stroke he suffered in December.

Former President George H.W. Bush said in a statement Friday that Foley “represented the very best in public service — and our political system. He always fought for his principles. He was always well-informed and well-reasoned, but Tom never got personal or burned bridges.”

A 15-term House member, Foley was defeated by George Nethercutt in the 1994 Republican revolution.

“For thirty years, Tom Foley represented the people of Washington’s 5th district with skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve,” President Obama said in a statement. “Tom’s straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties, eventually leading to his election as the 57th Speaker of the House. After his career in Congress, Tom served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, where his poise and civility helped strengthen our relationship with one of our closest allies.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Foley a “natural leader.”

“Forthright and warmhearted, Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any Speaker or representative.  Take it from the great Henry Hyde, who used to say of Tom, ‘I wish he were a Republican.’  With his passing, the House loses one of its most devoted servants and the country loses a great statesman,” Boehner said.

“Tom Foley was a public servant of the highest honor who put the future of our nation, our environment and even our fiscal health, above party and even his own political future,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “I had the privilege of serving in the House of Representatives for the full length of his tenure as Speaker. I appreciated his understated style, immense skills as a legislator, and sheer love of his home state of Washington. My prayers and condolences go out to Heather and the entire Foley family at this time of great loss.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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I first met Tom Foley in the spring of 1970, in what was the end of his third term in the house. Initially, he represented the congressional district that included Chelan County but was dominated by the city of Spokane.

He had given a speech in he Student Union of Wenatchee Valley College, and my older brother and I who were attending WJC caught up with him after the place emptied out (rather quickly as I recall) and before he's left the dais. We talked for probably a half hour, we standing and he sitting on a chair on the dais. Very personable guy, and, in retrospect, very honest about how he operated as a pol at home and as a congresscriter in DC.

We asked him if he thought it proper to canvass his congressional district for the voter’s views on matters that he would be asked to vote on in the Congress. We asked because we were young and foolish and thought that Representative meant, you know, representing the people who lived in his district. He replied that, no, he would always vote the way he saw fit, and that the voters in his district had the chance to fire him every two years if they didn't like it.

My brother and I each observed that he could do a lot of mischief in Congress in two years (which, by the way, he did) before he was called on to account for it at the end of his elected term. He agreed, but insisted that the voters knew what they were getting when they elected him.

Tom Foley was finally fired by the voters in 1994, by a Republican who used Foley's successful suit against the State of Washington regarding a passed state referendum limiting the terms of elected US Congressmen and Senators from that state. The federal case was titled "Foley V The People of the State of Washington", so you know that went over well at home. And of course, then Speaker Foley was taken to task for his role in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban so near and dear to all right thinking Clintonian Democrats everywhere.

Thirty years of mischief was still not worth the deer in the headlight look he had on his face when the voters in his district finally said, "Tom, we're permanently limiting your term to time served."
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