- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, who won respect from both sides of the aisle in his 28 years in Congress and as the 1988 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, died yesterday at his Houston home, his family said. He was 85.

Mr. Bentsen, a pro-free-enterprise Democrat who was successful in business before he went into politics, handed George Bush his first electoral defeat — in the 1970 race for the U.S. Senate seat once held by liberal Democrat Ralph Yarborough.

As Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential running mate, Mr. Bentsen scored one of the most memorable debating points ever. Mr. Bush’s vice-presidential choice, Dan Quayle, had just defended his record, arguing that he had as much congressional experience under his belt as John F. Kennedy had when he ran for president.

Mr. Bentsen’s cadenced reply, which made even the most partisan Quayle viewers wince, was: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Mr. Bush’s son paid a presidential tribute to Mr. Bentsen yesterday.

“Laura and I and the entire Bush family are saddened by Lloyd Bentsen’s death,” President Bush said. “During his time in Congress, he was known for his integrity and for seeking bipartisan solutions to issues facing our nation. … Lloyd Bentsen was a man of great honor and distinction.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, ordered state buildings to fly their flags at half-staff for five days.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, called Mr. Bentsen “a giant in politics, respected on both sides of the aisle.”

Although Mr. Bentsen’s aides sometimes tried to portray him as a liberal, longtime Bentsen friend and fellow Democrat J.D. Williams told The Washington Times: “On social issues, he was moderate, slightly right of center — and on taxes, a prudent conservative.”

As President Clinton’s first Treasury secretary, however, Mr. Bentsen lobbied through Congress the 1993 tax increases Mr. Clinton wanted, which amounted to the second largest tax increases in history.

“He was a great human being and a great marksman whose public career unfortunately ended at Treasury, about 200 yards short of where it should have: in the Oval Office,” said Mr. Williams, a District-based lobbyist who often hunted with Mr. Bentsen on the Bentsen ranch in South Texas.

Born in Mission, Texas, on Feb. 11, 1921, Mr. Bentsen later earned a law degree from the University of Texas and won the Distinguished Flying Cross as an Army Air Force pilot in World War II.

In 1950, during the Korean War, he said President Truman should threaten communist China with nuclear weapons. In the 1960s, he opened to blacks the formerly whites-only hotel he owned in Houston. After his 1970 election to the Senate, he won re-election by ever-widening margins.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Beryl Ann “BA” Bentsen, and three children.

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