It was 1964 when Tom Foley, son of a Spokane judge and a protegé of the great and powerful Sen. Henry Jackson, challenged an 11-term Republican incumbent, Wenatchee’s Rep. Walt Horan, and won a seat in Congress representing Eastern Washington’s 5th District. Foley represented Wenatchee in Congress until the 5th and 4th districts were changed from an east-west to north-south split in the redistricting of 1970. But, in Foley’s 30 years in Congress, being in or out of his district didn’t make a great deal of difference. Calls from Wenatchee were answered, not by aides but by Foley himself, from the House floor if need be. Problems were solved. He represented his district, the state and the nation with equal energy. Provincial rivalry was nonexistent. Partisanship was swept aside by statesmanship.
Foley’s death at age 84 was announced Friday morning by his wife Heather, and coming as it did after weeks of Washington turmoil, rancor and hate, it makes you realize the nation certainly could use more Foleys and far fewer of whatever it is we have now. Foley entered Congress in an age when government was judged by accomplishment, not ideology. Foley rose to power in an age when compromise was an admired art, not an admission of weakness. Foley was a Democrat from the prairies of the Columbia plateau. That was not usual when he began, rare when he left, but when work was needed the labels didn’t matter. Foley was dedicated to the greater good, to doing the best for the nation, to building up, not tearing down. He was possessed of enormous intelligence and drive, but those who worked with him said he realized political accomplishment came in small steps, in give and take, not slash and burn. He rose to chair the Agriculture Committee, to majority leader, to speaker of the House, and his mind never closed, his attitude never narrowed. He often said his greatest honor was serving his home in Congress. As he did, his leadership served a nation.