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Ex-Congressman Swett remembers Foley as "gentle, respectful'

October 18. 2013 12:41PM

CONCORD -- Former U.S House Speaker Thomas Foley, a Washington state Democrat who led the House from 1989 to 1996 died on Friday.

Foley, 84, served a total of 15 terms in the House  and was the first sitting Speaker of the House to be defeated for re-election since 1862.

Foley became Speaker when former Speaker Jim Wright of Texas was forced to step down due to ethics violations.

Foley represented Washington’s 5th Congressional District, which included his home town of Spokane, for 30 years. He first went to Washington, D.C., as an aid to former Washington U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Foley was voted out of office in 1994 during the Republican sweep of Congress spearheaded by soon-to-be Speaker Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America.

One of the tenants of the campaign was term limits for members of Congress. Foley vehemently opposed term limits and sued his native state when it adopted them.

After Foley was defeated for re-election, former President Bill Clinton named Foley to be Ambassador to Japan, serving from 1997 to 2001.

Before retiring in 2008, Foley worked at Akin, Gump, Strauss, a Washington, D.C., law and lobbying firm.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Dick Swett, who represented New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District in the House from 1991 to 1995, remembered his former Speaker fondly.

“No matter where you stood on the issues of policy, he was a man of gentle and respectful demeanor. He treated everybody equally. He was always looking for ways to get people to work together," Swett said.

Swett said the House has never had the same atmosphere of mutual respect since Foley’s tenure.

“If you take over an institution by denigrating it, you end up with a weaker institution,” Swett said. “And with the low opinion the public has of Congress, we see that being proven.

“It wasn’t Tom Foley’s fault,” Swett said. “He was upholding the institution’s veracity and value. Ever since he left, what has followed only reinforced that he was the kind of leader that institution really needed.”

Vice President Joe Biden called Foley “a good man.”

“Tom was a good friend and a dedicated public servant,” Biden said. “It was an honor to work with him during the budget summits of the 1980s that did so much to secure our nation’s future, and when he served overseas as our nation’s Ambassador to Japan.”

Democratic National Committee Chair and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said, “Throughout his three decades of service in Congress, Tom Foley always did what he thought was best for his constituents in Spokane and the American people. His ability to compromise and work across the aisle for the common good is an example for all of our country’s public servants.”

Besides Swett, New Hampshire U.S. Representatives who served when Foley was Speaker included Bob Smith, R-Tuftonboro; Charles “Chuck” Douglas, R-Concord; and Bill Zeliff, R-Jackson.
Services are likely to be held for Foley at St. Aloysius Church at Gonzaga University in Spokane, and in Washington, D.C.


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