WASHINGTON -- Tom Foley, the courtly former speaker of the U.S. House who lost his seat when Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 84.
H is wife, Heather, said the former speaker had suffered the stroke last December and was hospitalized in May with pneumonia. He returned home after a week and had been on hospice care there ever since, she said.
Foley also served as U.S. ambassador to Japan for four years in the Clinton administration.
He served 30 years in the U.S. House, including more than five years as speaker.
The Democrat, who had never served a single day in the minority, was ousted by a smooth young Spokane lawyer, Republican George Nethercutt, who won by 4,000 votes in the mostly rural, heavily Republican district in eastern Washington state.
Foley wasn't the victim of scandal or charges of gross incompetence. Instead, his ability as speaker to bring home federal benefits was a point Nethercutt used against him, accusing Foley of pork-barrel politics.
The public was restless that year, and the mood was dark and angry, Foley recalled later. The electorate turned on many of the Democrats it had installed in a landslide just two years earlier, dumping six congressmen in the Democrat-favored Washington state.
He was replaced as speaker by his nemesis, Georgia Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich, who later called Washington state the "ground zero" of the sweep that gave Republicans their first control of the House in 40 years. Foley, it turned out, was their prize casualty.
In a 2004 Associated Press interview, Foley said, after Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost his seat, that the same factors hurt them both: Voters did not appreciate the value of service as party leader, and 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. I think that's wrong, but it's a dangerous perception if it develops as it has," he told the AP.
Republicans kept Foley's old seat, even in 2006 when the national tide swung back and Democrats retook a majority in the House, and in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. As a party "superdelegate," Foley had remained uncommitted during Obama's presidential primary battle with Hillary Clinton but eventually endorsed Obama in June 2008.
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."
She added, "Speaker Foley's unrivaled ability to build consensus and find common ground earned him genuine respect on both sides of the aisle."
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Foley.
"Forthright and warmhearted, 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."
Foley loved the classics and art, hobnobbing with presidents, and the steady rise to power in Congress and diplomacy. But 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.
The Democratic giant studied at the feet of the state's two legendary senators, Henry M. Jackson and Warren G. Magnuson. "Scoop" Jackson was his mentor and urged his former aide to run for the House in 1964, which turned out to be the Johnson landslide year for the Democrats.
Foley worked with leadership to get plum committee assignments and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Retirement, new seniority rules, election losses and leadership battles lifted Foley into the Agriculture Committee chairmanship by age 44. At the time, he was the youngest chairman in a century. He eventually left that post, which he later called his favorite leadership position, to become Democratic whip, the caucus' third ranking post.
Similar good fortune elevated him to majority leader, and the downfall of Jim Wright of Texas lifted him to the speaker's chair, where he served from June 1989 until 1995.
"I wish I could say it was merit and hard work, but I think so much of what happens in a political career is the result of circumstances that are favorable and opportunities that come about," Foley told the AP in 2003.
He said his proudest achievements were farm bills, hunger programs, civil liberties, environmental legislation and civil rights bills. Helping individual constituents also was satisfying, he said. Even though his views were often considerably to the left of his mostly Republican constituents, he said he tried to stay in touch.
Dan Evans, a Republican former governor and senator, was among Foley's many fans. "He was an unusually