Thomas Stephen Foley, US Congress

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Thomas Stephen Foley

Also Known As: "Tom"
Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Spokane, Washington, USA
Death: October 18, 2013 (84)
Immediate Family:

Son of Ralph E. Foley and Helen Marie Foley
Husband of Heather Foley

Managed by: Linda Kathleen Thompson, (c)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Thomas Stephen Foley, US Congress

Thomas Stephen "Tom" Foley (born March 26, 1929) was the 57th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1989 to 1995. He represented Washington's 5th congressional district for 30 years as a Democratic member from 1965 to 1995.

Foley was the first Speaker of the House since 1862 to be defeated in a re-election campaign for Congress. He served as the United States Ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2001 under Bill Clinton.

Early life and legal practice

Foley was born in Spokane, Washington. In 1946, he graduated from the Jesuit-run Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane. He is an Eagle Scout. He went on to attend the Gonzaga University in Spokane and the University of Washington in Seattle, the latter awarding him a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1951. In 1957, he earned a law degree from the same university.

Following law school, Foley entered private areas. In 1958, he began working in the Spokane County prosecutor's office as a deputy prosecuting attorney. Foley taught at Gonzaga University Law School (in Spokane, Washington) from 1958 to 1959. In 1960, he joined the office of the State of Washington Attorney General.

In 1961, Foley moved to Washington, D.C., and joined the staff of the United States Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs as assistant chief clerk and special counsel, in which capacity he served until mid 1964.

Congressional service

In 1964, Foley won the Democratic nomination for Washington's 5th congressional district, which was based in Spokane. He faced 11-term Republican incumbent Walt Horan and won by seven points, one of several Democrats elected in the Democratic landslide of that year. He was re-elected without much trouble until 1978, when he barely defeated conservative activist Duane Alton. In 1980, physician John Sonneland nearly defeated Foley, only losing by 4 points. Foley didn't face serious opposition again until 1994, even as his district became more conservative.

In 1981, Foley was chosen majority whip by the House Democratic caucus and served in that capacity until 1987, when he moved up to the position of majority leader. In 1989, Jim Wright of Texas stepped down as Speaker of the House amid an ethics scandal, and Foley was elected to succeed him. He became the first Speaker from a state west of the Rocky Mountains.

Term limits

During his time in the House, Foley repeatedly opposed efforts to impose term limits on Washington state's elected officials, winning the support of the state's voters to reject term limits in a 1991 referendum. However, in 1992, a term limit ballot initiative was approved by the state's voters.

Foley brought suit, challenging the constitutionality of a state law setting eligibility requirements on federal offices. Foley won his suit, with federal courts declaring that states did not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to limit the terms of federal officeholders.

However, in Foley's bid for a 16th term in the House, his Republican opponent, George Nethercutt, used the issue against him, repeatedly citing the caption of the federal case brought by Foley, "Foley against the People of the State of Washington." Nethercutt vowed that if elected, he would not serve more than three terms in the House (but ultimately served for five terms). Foley lost in a narrow race that coincided with the Republican electoral triumph of 1994. While Foley had usually relied on large margins in Spokane itself to carry him to victory, in 1994 he only won Spokane by 9,000 votes while Nethercutt did well enough in the rest of the district to win overall by just under 4,000 votes. At the time, it was reported that some voters believed mistakenly that if he beat Foley, Nethercutt would become the new speaker of the House.

Foley became the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose his bid for re-election since Galusha Grow in 1862. He is sometimes viewed as a political casualty of the term limits controversy of the early 1990s.

Electoral history

Later career

In 1997, Foley was appointed as the 25th U.S. Ambassador to Japan by President Bill Clinton.[3] He served as ambassador until 2001.

Foley was a Washington delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

On July 9, 2003, Washington Governor Gary Locke awarded the Washington State Medal of Merit, the state's highest honor, to Foley.

He was North American Chairman of the Trilateral Commission.


Order of the British Empire (UK).
Order of Merit (Germany).
Légion d'honneur (France).
Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers, Grand Cordon (Japan), 1995.
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Thomas Stephen Foley, US Congress's Timeline

March 6, 1929
Spokane, Washington, USA
October 18, 2013
Age 84