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Ex-House Speaker Tom Foley dies at 84

  • In this July 9, 2003, file photo, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Foley speaks after receiving the Medal of Merit during ceremonies in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Louie Balukoff, File)

WASHINGTON — Tall and courtly, Tom Foley served 30 years in a U.S. House where partisan confrontation was less rancorous than today and where Democrats dominated for decades. He crowned his long political career by becoming speaker, only to be toppled when Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994, turned out by angry voters with little taste for incumbents.

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

Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University, said that growing up during the Depression and World War II made Foley part of a generation that worked in a more bipartisan manner.

"They saw us all on the same team," Clayton said.

Foley, who grew up in a politically active family in Spokane, Wash., represented that agriculture-heavy area for 30 years in the House, including more than five years in the speaker's chair.

In that job, he was third in line of succession to the presidency and was the first speaker from west of the Rocky Mountains.

As speaker, he was an active negotiator in the 1990 budget talks that led to President George H.W. Bush breaking his pledge to never agree to raise taxes.

He was also at the helm when, in 1992, revelations that many lawmakers had been allowed to overdraw their checking accounts at the House bank provoked a wave of anger against incumbents. In 1993, he helped shepherd President Bill Clinton's budget through the House.

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