Historical records matching Lloyd Bentsen, U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
About Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Jr.
Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Jr. (February 11, 1921 – May 23, 2006) was a four-term United States senator (1971–1993) from Texas and the Democratic Party nominee for Vice President in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket. He also served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955. In his later political life, he was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the U.S. Treasury Secretary during the first two years of the Clinton administration.
Bentsen was born in Mission in Hidalgo County to Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Sr. (calleded to as "Big Lloyd"), a first-generation Danish American, and his wife Edna Ruth Colbath. Bentsen was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He attended Sharyland High School. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942 where he was a member of the Upsilon Chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity. Upon graduation, he served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. On November 27, 1943, he married Beryl Ann Longino, a fashion model, whom he first met in college.
After brief service as a private in intelligence work in Brazil, he trained to be a pilot and in early 1944 began flying combat missions in B-24s from Foggia, Italy with the 449th Bomb Group. At age 23, he was promoted to major and given command of a squadron of 600 men, overseeing the operations of 15 bombers, their crews, and their maintenance units.
Bentsen flew thirty-five missions against many heavily defended targets, including the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, which were critical to the Nazi war production. The 15th Air Force, which included the 449th Bomb Group, destroyed all petroleum production within its range, eliminating to about half of Nazi Germany's sources of fuel. Bentsen's unit also flew against communications centers, aircraft factories and industrial targets in Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Bentsen participated in raids in support of the Anzio campaign and flew missions against targets in preparation for the landing in southern France. He was shot down twice.
Bentsen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the Air Force's highest commendations for achievement or heroism in flight. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bentsen was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal and each subsequent cluster award were awarded for completing specific numbers of combat missions. Before completing his military service, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
Early political career
After the war, Bentsen returned to his native Rio Grande Valley. He served the people of his home area from 1946 to 1955, first as Hidalgo County Judge (a largely administrative post as opposed to judicial duties) before serving three successive terms in the United States House of Representatives. In each of his three campaigns for the House, Bentsen was unopposed in the general election. He became a protégé of Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and developed a reputation as an excellent poker player. While sitting as a member of the House, Bentsen advocated using atomic weapons against North Korean cities if they did not withdraw north of the 38th parallel. In 1954, he declined to seek reelection and entered what was to become a prosperous career in business.
Bentsen moved to Houston where he founded Consolidated American Life Insurance Company (Calico). He also served on the board of Lockheed Corporation as well as those of several oil and gas companies. He was successful and became very secure financially. By 1970, he had become president of Lincoln Consolidated, a financial holding institution.
Return to politics
Bentsen upset incumbent Ralph Yarborough, a liberal icon, in a bruising primary campaign for the 1970 Texas Democratic Senatorial nomination. The campaign came in the wake of Yarborough's politically hazardous votes in favor of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Bentsen made Yarborough's opposition to the war a major issue. His television advertising featured video images of rioting in the streets at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, implying that Yarborough was associated with the rioters. While this strategy was successful in defeating Yarborough, it caused long-term damage to Bentsen's relationship with liberals in his party.
Bentsen's campaign and his reputation as a centrist Democrat served to alienate him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970 Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new, more moderate-to-conservative Texas Democratic Party and that the long-term interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat. Nevertheless, later that year, Bentsen went on to win the general election when he was pitted against Congressman and future President George H. W. Bush. On election night, Bentsen beat Bush convincingly.
1976 presidential campaign
Beginning in 1974, Bentsen campaigned for the Democratic Party's 1976 presidential nomination. In 1974 he visited 30 states and raised $350,000 at a single fundraiser in Texas. Bentsen formally announced his candidacy on February 17, 1975, and in the early part of that year he had already raised over $1 million for his campaign; only George Wallace of Alabama and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson of Washington had raised more money by that point. Bentsen did not organize effectively on a national level, and many observers believed the freshman senator was running without any real hope of winning the nomination, hoping instead to secure a vice-presidential nomination.
Wallace and Jackson were considered to be the two main contenders for the moderate to conservative voters to whom Bentsen would appeal; early in the campaign few foresaw Jimmy Carter of Georgia also effectively appealing to that group.
By October 1975 Bentsen, generating little national attention or significance in the polls, scaled back his campaign to a limited effort in areas of 8 to 10 states, hoping for a deadlocked convention. In the first state contest Bentsen vigorously contested, Mississippi, he managed only 1.6% of the vote. Two weeks later Bentsen staked the remainder of his campaign and resources in neighboring Oklahoma but finished third with only 12%. A few days later Bentsen shut down his national campaign, staying in the race only as a favorite son in Texas. However, in the May 1, 1976, primary Jimmy Carter won 92 of Texas's 98 delegates. The eventual nominee and president, Carter was later quoted as saying he had expected a much stronger showing by Bentsen but that Bentsen's failure to campaign nationally had ended his hopes.
Firmly ensconced in Washington, Bentsen was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate in 1976, 1982, and 1988. He defeated sitting Republican congressmen from safe House seats in all four of his Senate elections, including Bush in 1970. In 1976, he ended the career of Alan Steelman of Dallas. In 1982, he defeated James M. Collins of Dallas, who had first dispatched the strongly conservative State Senator Walter Mengden of Houston in the Republican primary. In 1988, he defeated Beau Boulter of Amarillo. Bentsen was also on the ballot as the Democratic vice presidential nominee that year; he could seek both offices under the 1960 "Johnson law" in Texas.
Bentsen's early reputation as a conservative evolved as his voting record developed and the nation's political climate shifted rightward. His support for abortion rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and civil rights was balanced by his endorsement of public school prayer, capital punishment, tax cuts, and deregulation of industry. He generally supported business interests in the arena of economic policy and swiftly rose to become a power to be reckoned with on the Senate Finance Committee. He came to be viewed as a moderate Democrat.
By the 1980s, Bentsen's relationship with Texas liberals had improved in the face of the growing strength of the Texas Republican Party and as the memory of his defeat of Ralph Yarborough faded. Many liberals came to credit his support of civil rights and equal rights for women, abortion rights, and economic development along the Mexican border. Bentsen provided crucial support for President Carter's arms control efforts and ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty. He passed legislation improving access to health care for low income women and children and many provisions of law conserving natural areas across the state. Despite strong industry support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, he voted against it. In 1991 he opposed the Iraq War Resolution which provided President George H. W. Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq.
When Bentsen was up for reelection in 1982, he played a significant role in electing the most liberal slate of statewide officials in living memory by leading a unified Democratic campaign and tapping his substantial campaign funds for a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort.
1988 Vice Presidential candidate
Bentsen was on Walter Mondale's short list of seven or eight possible vice presidential candidates in 1984 and was the only southerner and one of three white males considered. In the end, Mondale chose New York U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.
In 1988 Governor Michael Dukakis (Massachusetts) chose Bentsen to be his running mate in that year's presidential election, beating out Ohio Senator John Glenn, who was considered the early favorite. Bentsen was selected in large part to secure the state of Texas and its electoral vote for the Democrats, even with fellow Texan George H. W. Bush at the top of the Republican ticket. Because of Bentsen's status as something of an elder statesman who was more experienced in electoral politics, many believed Dukakis's selection of Bentsen as his running mate was a mistake in that Bentsen, number two on the ticket, appeared more presidential than did Dukakis. One elector in West Virginia even cast a ballot for him rather than Dukakis, giving Bentsen one electoral vote for President. The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket was the first to feature a Massachusetts presidential and Texas vice-presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were running mates in 1960.
Bentsen was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of the campaign during his televised debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle. In answering a question about his experience, Quayle stated that he had as much political experience as John F. Kennedy had when he ran for the presidency. Bentsen retorted, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Quayle replied, "That was really uncalled for, Senator." Bentsen responded, "You're the one that was making the comparison, Senator." Peter Goldman and Tom Mathews wrote in The Quest for the Presidency 1988 that Bentsen "was the forgotten man" of the campaign until the exchange with Quayle. Thereafter, his "gray solidarity" was "made luminescent by the pallor of the other three men. However, there have been questions raised as to how well Bentsen really knew Kennedy. Some have claimed they only had a nodding acquaintance;" and, that Bentsen had prepared his answer knowing Quayle had previously compared himself to Kennedy.
The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost the election. Bentsen was unable to swing his home state, with 43 percent of the Texas vote going for the Dukakis ticket while Bush and Quayle took 56 percent, despite the fact that Bentsen was simultaneously re-elected to the United States Senate with 59 percent of the vote.
Bentsen considered running for president in 1992, but he, along with many other Democrats, backed out because of Bush's apparent popularity following the successful Gulf War (Bush ended up losing the election to Bill Clinton).
Secretary of the Treasury
Bentsen resigned from the Senate in January 1993 to serve as the 69th Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton from 1993 to 1994. Clinton's selection of Bentsen for his Cabinet was well received in Congress and on Wall Street. However, it was criticized by some Democrats after a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, won the special election in June 1993 for the year and a half left in Bentsen's term.
As a Senator, Bentsen had been a staunch advocate of reducing federal budget deficits. As Secretary of the Treasury, he was a principal architect and chief spokesman for Clinton's first budget which contributed to the first federal budget surplus in 40 years, the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in 30 years, and the longest economic expansion since the 1960s. He helped win crucial Republican votes to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Bentsen also was pivotal in winning passage of the 1994 crime bill which banned assault rifles.
After the resignation of Les Aspin in early 1994, Bentsen was seriously considered for the position of Secretary of Defense. This prospect, however, did not materialize and William Perry, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, was chosen to succeed Aspin.
In early December 1994, Bentsen announced his resignation as Secretary of the Treasury. Before election day he had discussed with President Clinton that he was not prepared to stay in office until 1996. He was succeeded in the position by Robert Rubin.
Later life and death
In 1995, former Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in an interview with Larry King when asked which Democrats she admired: "I like Lloyd Bentsen very much indeed, I was sad when he resigned. He's a real marvelous politician, a person of great dignity, a person we can look up to and like as well."
In 1998, Bentsen suffered two strokes, which left him needing a wheelchair for mobility. In 1999 President Clinton awarded Bentsen the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation's highest honors given to civilians. He appeared in the summer of 2004 at the portrait unveilings at the White House of former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Bentsen died on May 23, 2006, at his home in Houston at the age of 85. He was survived by his wife, the former Beryl Ann Longino, three children, and six grandchildren. His funeral was held on May 30 at the First Presbyterian Church of Houston, where Bentsen and his wife had been members for many years. He is interred in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery. Former president Bill Clinton, who was a close friend, delivered a eulogy.
As a freshman Senator, Bentsen guided to passage the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a long-stalled pension reform bill providing federal protections for the pensions of American workers. He also championed the creation of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), legislation improving access to health care for low income women and children, and tax incentives for independent oil and gas producers to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
As a primary architect of the Clinton economic plan, Bentsen contributed to a $500 billion reduction in the deficit, launching the longest period of economic growth since World War II. More than 5 million new jobs were created during his tenure as Secretary.
In recognition of his success in securing federal funding, two hundred seventy miles of U.S. Highway 59, from I-35 to I-45 in Texas (between Laredo and Houston, respectively), are officially named Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway.
His legacy also includes many water, wastewater and other infrastructure projects in the impoverished Colonia of south Texas, the preservation of natural areas across the state, and major funding for medical facilities too numerous to list.
Bentsen's family continues to be active in politics. His nephew, Ken Bentsen, Jr., was a U.S. Representative (D) from 1995 to 2003 in Texas's 25th District, and a U.S. Senate candidate in 2002. His grandson, Lloyd Bentsen IV, served on John Kerry's advance staff during Kerry's 2004 campaign for the presidency of the United States.
He is also known for inventing the term astroturfing.
On January 22, 2009, the Senator Lloyd and B.A. Bentsen Stroke Research Center officially opened in the Fayez S. Sarofim Research Building in the medical district of Houston, TX as part of the University of Texas Health Science Center of Houston. Notable speakers included Dr. Cheng Chi Lee and Houston Mayor Bill White.