By Cornell W. Clayton, professor of political science and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University
Tom Foley would have turned 90 today. What he would have thought about last week’s hearings in the House Oversight Committee? Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, called the president a racist, a con man and a cheat, and acknowledged he had been directed to pay off a porn star during the 2016 election.
No one seemed fazed. No one said “Have you no decency?” Not to Cohen, the president, or misbehaving members of Congress. Foley, who cherished Congress, surely would have agreed with committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, who gaveled the meeting closed saying “we are better than this. We really are. As a country, we are so much better than this.”
Tom Foley devoted his life to public service, starting in the state attorney general’s office, as a staffer to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and then for 30 years representing Washington’s 5th Congressional District in the House, followed by service as ambassador to Japan and chair of the Trilateral Commission.
It’s impossible to list all that Foley accomplished while serving the people of Eastern Washington. A master at bipartisan cooperation, he passed legislation for family medical leave, AmeriCorps and food stamp programs, as well as other programs reducing hunger and protecting the elderly. He brought millions of research dollars to the region’s universities, leading to the development of new crops, healthier farming techniques and a burgeoning wine industry in our state. Foley obtained funding to build crucial highways and infrastructure across Eastern Washington, and was a driving force behind many Spokane landmarks such as Riverfront Park and the University District.
Foley was a warm, affable man. But the dignity with which he treated his office was no accident of temperament. It grew from his belief in the nobility of government service itself. He believed Congress could do good, that public service was a privilege, and honoring your office required respecting others, including those with whom you disagreed.