- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Former longtime Missouri state Sen. Harold Caskey, a staunch advocate for education and gun rights, died Thursday following complications related to Parkinson’s disease, his wife said. He was 77.

Kay Caskey said her husband died at Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Kansas, where he had been taken by air ambulance Monday after choking while eating and losing consciousness at their home in Butler. She said he had trouble swallowing because of Parkinson’s disease.

Caskey, a Democrat, first won election to the Missouri Senate in 1976 and served for 28 years before being forced out by term limits. He previously served as the Bates County prosecutor from 1967 to 1973 and as the Butler city attorney from 1973 to 1976. He also had taught at Truman State University in Kirksville.

Caskey played a key role in Missouri’s school funding laws and college scholarships. He applied his legal expertise to bills both imposing criminal punishments and - near the end of his term - allowing certain nonviolent offenders to be released from prison sooner.

He also was instrumental in ensuring that Missouri residents can get permits for concealed guns. In 2003, he broke ranks with many fellow Democrats and used a rare procedural motion to get around a filibuster and force a vote on the concealed guns bill. He then joined Republicans in voting to override the veto of then-Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat.

Caskey, who was legally blind, worked from a seat on the outer row of the Senate chamber so an aide could be within earshot. To some, he was known as “the old lion” - a reference to his tenacity in debating. He often wore 14-carot gold lion cuff links, Kay Caskey said.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who served with Caskey in the Senate for six years, described him as “a true champion for the people” and a strong advocate for the visually impaired.

“Harold’s intelligence, sense of humor and dedication to public service inspired us all,” Nixon said in a written statement.

Kay Caskey said her husband would want to be remembered for championing causes benefiting children, education and injury victims.

“He always came to the forefront to help people who had virtually no other way to be helped, the people who basically have no voice,” she said.

Caskey had continued to serve as vice chairman of the Missouri State Capitol Commission, which oversees the building’s preservation projects. He also served on the board of the Bates County Memorial Hospital.

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