Foley was defeated in 1994 by 4,000 votes by Spokane attorney George Nethercutt, a Republican who supported term limits, which the speaker fought. Also hurting Foley was his ability to bring home federal benefits, which Nethercutt used by accusing him of pork-barrel politics.
On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Foley “forthright and warmhearted” in a written statement.
“Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Boehner said. “That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any speaker or representative.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Foley “a quintessential champion of the common good” who “inspired a sense of purpose and civility that reflects the best of our democracy.”
In a 2004 Associated Press interview, Foley spoke about how voters did not appreciate the value of service as party leader and said rural voters were turning against Democrats.
“We need to examine how we are responding to this division ... particularly the sense in some rural areas that the Democratic Party is not a party that respects faith or family or has respect for values,” he said. “I think that’s wrong, but it’s a dangerous perception if it develops as it has.”
Foley loved the classics and art, hobnobbing with presidents, and his steady rise to power in Congress and diplomacy. He had a fine stereo system in his Capitol office.
He also loved riding horseback in parades and getting his boots dirty in the rolling hills of the Palouse country that his pioneer forebears helped settle.
Legendary Washington Democratic Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was his mentor and urged his former aide to run for the House in 1964, which turned out to be a landslide year for Democrats.