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Editorial: Rep. Tom Foley left indelible impact on Eastern Washington

Almost 19 years ago, under the headline “Integrity in office, grace in defeat,” The Spokesman-Review saluted the service of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom S. Foley.

After 30 years of service, and innumerable contributions to Spokane, the 5th District and the nation, Foley had lost his seat in Congress.

We noted his words of thanks to constituents and colleagues despite an upset that had removed the first sitting speaker since 1864. We contrasted his gratitude with the already-evident spitefulness of his reckless successor as speaker, and concluded with this:

“Foley leaves a different legacy. He worked to strengthen agriculture and defense, keep electricity affordable, make forestry sustainable, reduce pollution, improve airports, enhance universities, renovate downtowns, widen killer highways, boost mass transit, create scenic trails, fund research that fed the world, nourish hungry children, combat bigotry, support the elderly and show, for those with eyes to see, that politics still can be an honorable profession.”

An honorable profession.

It’s easy to become misty-eyed about the good ol’ days in Washington, D.C., in the light of recent events. But politics has always been politics. Foley secured the speakership in part because his Democratic predecessor and a potential rival for the job were felled by scandal. Controversy claimed his Republican successor.

Foley’s reputation was impeccable. Along with Montanan Mike Mansfield and Idaho’s Cecil Andrus, he was among a cluster of Northwest politicians of his time who exemplified public service of the highest order.

His efforts helped transform Spokane. To name a few:

• The United States pavilion at Expo ’74, with the lattice supports that define the skyline of Riverfront Park.

• The Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (now Innovate Washington), which became the catalyst for the University District.

• The Centennial Trail, one of the region’s premier outdoor attractions.

Were it not for improvements he sponsored, Fairchild Air Force Base might very well be a ghost facility.

Foley was a son of Spokane who became chairman of the House Agriculture Committee despite himself. (He was set to nominate someone else for the position.) The farmers of Eastern Washington have never had a greater friend.

President Bill Clinton named him ambassador to Japan, a post perfect for an individual of his natural statesmanship, and one which Mansfield had occupied a decade earlier.

On a personal level, Foley was a self-deprecating, iron-pumping audiophile who – here’s a shocker – placed his own telephone calls instead of relying on secretaries.

Wife Heather was his unpaid chief of staff for most of Foley’s time in office, and to her we extend our condolences.

Tom Foley was a giant among Washington politicians – state and D.C. – and Eastern Washington residents should take a moment to pause in gratitude.

We fortunate constituents will not see his like again.


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