Ex-senator Simon, Ill. Democrat, dies

Balanced-budget advocate won state primary in 1988 during presidential race

December 10, 2003|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Former Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat who ran for president in 1988 as a budget-balancing liberal, died yesterday of complications after heart surgery in his home state of Illinois. He was 75.

On Monday, Mr. Simon underwent single-bypass heart-valve surgery at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, according to Southern Illinois University, where he worked in public policy.

Mr. Simon began as a populist Democrat, winning a seat in the Illinois Legislature in 1954. He was lieutenant governor of Illinois from 1969 to 1973 and served five terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. That year, he ousted a Republican incumbent, Charles Percy, who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, even as President Reagan won re-election in a landslide.

Mr. Simon served two terms in the Senate before retiring from Congress in 1997.

His campaign for his party's 1988 presidential nomination helped make then-Sen. Simon nationally known. Sporting a professorial bow tie, he portrayed himself as an earnest, admittedly unglamorous, Midwesterner, an heir to the New Deal and the Great Society. He extolled both fiscal responsibility and social programs.

Defender of government

A man who grew up during the Great Depression, Mr. Simon spoke frequently of the value of government, even as he identified himself as a budget balancer.

"Some people say if you have an economic agenda that requires balancing the budget, you can't have a social agenda," he told a crowd in Iowa in late 1987. "I would argue precisely the opposite, that those who say we can continue to indefinitely borrow from our children and grandchildren and generations to come in fact are eroding our ability to do what we ought to do in education, in health care, and in other things."

At another point in the campaign, he said government was "not the enemy" but an agent for making a "vast difference in the lives of millions."

During that campaign, one of his opponents in the hard-fought Iowa caucuses, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, ridiculed Simon's policies as "Reaganomics with a bow tie." Rep. Gephardt won in Iowa.

The senator withdrew from the Democratic presidential race in April 1988 after finishing second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, winning only his home state. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts won the nomination but lost in the general election.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who had worked as his aide, said of his predecessor: "Paul Simon set the standard for honesty and caring in public life. Illinois has lost a great public servant, and I have lost a great friend. At a time when people gave up on other politicians, they never gave up on Paul Simon."

Republicans spoke highly of him as well. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, praised Mr. Simon as "a distinguished statesman" who "dedicated many years of his life as a selfless public servant who put those he represented first and foremost throughout his tenure in office."

Born Nov. 29, 1928, in Eugene, Ore., the son of Lutheran missionaries, Mr. Simon was editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in southern Illinois before he entered politics. He made a name for himself crusading against political corruption.

Loyal Democrat

Though his initial political leanings were toward Republicans, he joined the Illinois Democratic Party in 1949 and never swerved from it. Some in his party winced, though, when he railed against what he perceived as the corrupt Illinois Democratic machine in the 1960s.

In the Senate, he advocated a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, which was never adopted, and a shift of defense funds into education, housing and other domestic programs. He championed federal student loan programs, campaign finance reform and a reduction in television violence. He served on the Senate's Budget, Foreign Relations, Judiciary and Labor committees, among others.

From his hospital bed Thursday he endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination. He told the Chicago Tribune that Mr. Dean, like him an opponent of the Iraq war, would "tell us the truth and not just pander to us."

Mr. Simon's first wife, Jeanne, died in 2000. He married Patricia Derge in 2001 and is survived by her; his daughter, Sheila; his son, Martin; and a stepdaughter, Jennie.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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