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John Tower, former Texas senator

By
United Press International

Despite his many years of service in the Senate, John Goodwin Tower, became one of the few Cabinet nominees ever to be rejected by that body when his bid to become secretary of defense was defeated in 1989.

A dapper political science professor who broke Texas's century-long tradition of sending Democrats to the Senate, Tower was first elected with tacit support of liberals but quickly became one of the chamber's most conservative ideologues.

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Tower died Friday when the commuter plane on which he was a passenger crashed while landing at the Glynco jetport near Brunswick, Ga.

He served in the Senate for 24 years before retiring and subsequently being chosen by newly elected President Bush to run the Pentagon.

On March 9, 1989, after weeks of bitter debate, the Senate voted to reject Tower's nomination, 53-47. It was a hard personal blow for Tower, who in a recently published book bitterly criticized his former colleagues.

After the rejection of Tower, Bush nominated Rep. Richard Cheney, R- Wyo., who was quickly approved for the defense post.

The vote against Tower marked only the ninth time that the Senate turned down a Cabinet nominee.

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The campaign to block Tower's nomination was generated by reports of drinking and womanizing that indicated to his critics that Tower would be unreliable in the crucial post of defense secretary.

Critics also said Tower's consulting contracts with defense firms would severely handicap his efforts to restore public confidence in the scandal-wracked Pentagon.

In his book, Tower attempted to settle some of the old scores, belittling Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., as a tyrant within the committee.

Tower's first bid for the Senate failed in 1960 when Democrat Lyndon Johnson ran simultaneously for re-election to his seat and for the vice presidency. Tower came back the next year to take Johnson's place and become the state's first Republican senator in modern history.

He was re-elected three times, announcing Aug. 23, 1983, that he would not seek a fifth six-year term. At the time he was chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee and one of President Reagan's most loyal supporters.

That loyalty may have helped Reagan rely on Tower when the president decided to allow a review of White House National Security Council staff operations in his worst crisis, the Iran-Contra scandal. The three-man Tower Commission did not fault the president harshly in the matter -- but did, in its February 1987 report, criticize his lax management style in the Oval Office.

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When Tower was first elected in 1961, he was transformed from a 35- year-old government science professor at Midwestern University to the youngest member of the Senate. More importantly, he led a wave of Republican breakthroughs in the once-solid Democratic South.

Ironically, it was the long-feuding Texas Democrats who allowed that first victory in 1961 and his subsequent re-election in 1966. Rather than face the prospect of electing another conservative Democrat, liberals sat out the 1961 race -- some even may have voted for Tower -- in the expectation that they could easily beat him with one of their own in 1966.

But again Tower defied the odds, tailoring his image as a powerful voice among Republicans in Washington, and was sent back for a second term, again helped by liberals who did not want a conservative Democrat in the seat.

The 5-foot-5 Tower, with his slicked-back hair and natty three-piece suits, quickly gained recognition as a superb politician and power behind the scenes among Senate Republicans.

He faced his toughest test at the polls in 1978 with a challenge from popular Democratic Rep. Robert Krueger. The campaign was particularly hostile, marked at one point by Tower refusing to shake Krueger's hand at a banquet. But the incumbent managed to win by 12,000 votes out of more than 2.3 million cast.

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From the outset, Tower was considered one of the Senate's most conservative members, the first to come out for Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964. Later he formed a close alliance with the White House when Richard Nixon became president.

Tower later moderated some of his views, saying he was taking a 'pragmatic' approach to government policies, but he still was clearly conservative. In one official biography he described himself as a 'progressive conservative.'

Tower kept largely from public view his increasing role in GOP affairs until he was selected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. He gained prestige by virtue of committee assignments, becoming senior Republican on the Armed Services as well as the Banking Committee.

Tower was born in Houston Sept. 29, 1925, the son and grandson of Methodist ministers. He grew up around East Texas and enlisted in the Navy at age 17 at the outbreak of World War II, seeing combat in the Pacific Ocean. He took his bachelor's degree and a master's degree in political science from Southwestern University and did graduate work at the University of London.

Tower married Lou Bullington, the organist at his father's church, divorcing her in 1976. They had three daughters, Penny, Marian and Jeanne. In 1977, he married attorney Lilla Burt Cummings, who had a son, George. They currently are involved in a messy and public divorce.

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