Former Democratic U.S. House speaker Foley dies at 84

(Reuters) – Former Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Foley, who spent 30 years in Congress before a conservative mood shift made him one of the few speakers ever defeated for re-election, died yesterday at age 84, his wife said.

Foley, the son of a judge and a native of Spokane, Washington, passed away at his home in Washington, D.C., shortly after 9 a.m. of complications from a stroke, his wife Heather Foley said in an email.

A former county prosecutor, Foley was first elected to Congress in 1964 from eastern Washington state as part of the Democratic landslide behind President Lyndon Johnson, ousting an 11-term Republican incumbent.

He worked his way up from chairman of the Agriculture Committee to Democratic whip, the No. 3 spot in the House, in 1981 and then to party leader in 1986. When U.S. Representative Jim Wright of Texas stepped down as speaker in 1989 in the midst of an ethics scandal, Foley was elevated to the top job – becoming the first speaker from west of the Rocky Mountains.

A moderate Democrat widely respected for his ability to work across the aisle with Republicans, his death comes days after Congress ended a 16-day partial government shutdown precipitated by Republican demands to delay or defund President Barack Obama’s healthcare initiative.

In a statement, Obama praised Foley’s “skill, dedication, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of those he was elected to serve” during his Congressional career, noting that his “straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties.”

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