- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Former U.S. Rep. Jim Santini, who served four terms representing Nevada as a Democrat in the 1970s and 1980s, died Tuesday after being diagnosed with advanced-stage esophageal cancer. He was 78.

Santini’s daughter, Lori Egbers, said her father died peacefully at a hospice center in Rockville, Maryland, where he had been staying since last week. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle offered their condolences.

“He always was a kind, gracious man, and I will miss him very, very much,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in remarks delivered on the Senate floor. “He was a remarkably good person, a tremendous person who understood Nevada so well.”

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller wrote on Twitter that “Jim worked hard for all of Nevada and always sought to put the state’s interests first.”

Santini was born in Reno and attended Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, the University of Nevada, Reno, and Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. He served in the Army and was a justice of the peace and a district court judge in Las Vegas.

He was elected to Congress in 1974, when Nevada had only one representative in the House, and served until 1983. The growing state was later divided into two congressional districts.

Santini was succeeded by Republican Barbara Vucanovich and Democrat Harry Reid.

He made an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 1982, when he lost in a Democratic primary. Santini became a Republican in 1985 and unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 1986 against Reid.

“When that race was over, it was over,” Reid said Tuesday. “I knew Jim before he and I became opponents. We worked together on many different projects. We never had a cross word to this day.”

A co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, Santini later served as legislative counsel for the National Tour Association from 1983 to 2007. Representatives from that organization named an award in his honor in 2011 and said he left a powerful legacy.

“NTA and the entire travel industry have lost a giant in Jim Santini,” said Jim Host, a friend of Santini and NTA’s executive vice president from 1974 to 1997. “His incredible efforts as NTA’s legislative representative made NTA more than a significant player in the national arena.”

Santini also was a board member of the Institute of American Indian Arts, a leader in the March of Dimes and an advocate for people with disabilities including his son, who has spina bifida, Egbers said.

Santini recently celebrated 47 years of marriage to his wife, Ann. He had six children and 13 grandchildren.

A funeral was scheduled for Sept. 29 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Potomac, Maryland.

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