Ex-congressman George Nethercutt, Known for Defeating Speaker Foley, Passes Away at 79

Ex-congressman George Nethercutt, Known for Defeating Speaker Foley, Passes Away at 79

SEATTLE – Former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, a Spokane lawyer with little political experience when he defeated Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley as part of a surprise GOP tsunami that moved national politics to the right in 1994, has died. He was 79.

Nethercutt died on Friday in Denver from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurodegenerative brain illness, according to his son in an email Monday.

“He lived a life based in faith, family, community, and service, never sacrificing his principles as a statesman,” said Elliott Nethercutt.

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The 1994 midterm elections, which took place midway through President Bill Clinton’s first term, were a major win for Republicans, who gained control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.

Nethercutt was the chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party and had previously served as Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ chief of staff in the 1970s, but had never run for government before defeating Foley.

Foley had represented the district for 30 years, the last five as Speaker of the House. Nethercutt’s campaign advertising emphasized Foley’s opposition to term limits and noted that he had been in office since “Bonanza” was the most popular television show.

Foley became the first speaker to lose his reelection bid since 1860.

Nethercutt joined other 1994 Republican candidates in signing the Contract With America, a set of conservative principles championed by Rep. Newt Gingrich and others. Among those goals was enacting term limits; Nethercutt promised to serve no more than three terms but served five before leaving the seat to run unsuccessfully against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in 2004.

“George Nethercutt was a giant among men who served the people of Eastern Washington with honor and patriotism for a decade,” Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who now represents Nethercutt’s previous seat, wrote on Facebook. “George was a man of character who led with kindness and conviction, and he was a person I proudly looked up to long before the day I was sworn in to represent the Fifth District we shared such a love for.”

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Among his concerns while in office were developing new foreign markets for farm products from eastern Washington, ensuring federal funding for Fairchild Air Force Base, and supporting research funds at Washington State University.

Like many other Republicans elected during the 1994 wave, he had a conservative voting record and advocated impeaching Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Following his time in Congress, he became a lobbyist and worked for the George Nethercutt Foundation, which promoted civics education through scholarships, competitions, and educational trips to Washington.

Nethercutt attended Foley’s memorial ceremonies after his death in 2013, and he joined the advisory board of Washington State University’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service two years ago. He also established a fund at the institution to support the George Nethercutt Endowed Lectures on Civic Engagement.

“Since 2008, my foundation has promoted civic education among students, so they are prepared to engage with our democratic system — a system that depends on the participation of informed citizens, open dialogue, and compromise to function properly,” Nethercutt stated at the time nbcnews reported.

Nethercutt was born in Spokane in 1944 and attended Washington State University before graduating from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1971. As a law student, he clerked for Foley’s father, Ralph Foley, a Spokane County Superior Court judge.

Nethercutt is survived by his wife, Mary Beth Nethercutt, whom he married in 1977, two daughters, Meredith Nethercutt Krisher and Elliott Nethercutt, sister Nancy Nethercutt Gustafson, brother John Irving Nethercutt, and granddaughter Holly Beth Krisher.

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