Richard Lugar Dies at 87; Led Arms-Control Pacts in Senate

(Bloomberg) -- Richard Lugar, a six-term Republican senator from Indiana whose foreign-affairs and farm-policy dealings with Democrats represented a bygone era of bipartisanship, has died. He was 87.

The Lugar Center, a Washington-based think tank founded by the senator, said Lugar died peacefully on Sunday. The cause of death was complications from CIDP (chronic inflammatory demylinating polyneuropathy), a rare neurological disorder.

Lugar led Senate confirmation of treaties with the Soviet Union limiting nuclear weapons during the 1980s. After the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, he and Democratic Senator Sam Nunn led the legislative effort to demolish weapons of mass destruction in the successor states.

Richard Lugar Dies at 87; Led Arms-Control Pacts in Senate

“Hoosiers are saddened today to learn of the passing of one of our greatest statesmen,” Vice President Mike Pence said in a statement.

“As the longest serving member of Congress from Indiana, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, he leaves behind a legacy of public service that will inspire Hoosiers for generations,” said Pence, a former six-term Representative from Indiana.

Serving in the Senate from 1977 to 2013, Lugar was twice chairman of its Foreign Relations Committee and often traveled abroad on diplomatic and fact-finding missions.

Model Public Servant

“Our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman,” President Barack Obama said in awarding Lugar the Medal of Freedom in 2013. “And in a time of unrelenting partisanship, Dick Lugar’s decency, his commitment to bipartisan problem-solving, stand as a model of what public service ought to be.”

Obama said Sunday in a statement that Lugar “proved that pragmatism and decency work --- not only in Washington but all over the world.”

Lugar’s “decades-long work on nuclear nonproliferation, as well as his belief in robust foreign aid, made America and the world safer and stronger,” former President Bill Clinton said in a statement.

On domestic policy, Lugar was the rare senator from a farm state who opposed agricultural subsidies, and from a manufacturing state who was against trade tariffs. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee in 1996, he was father of the so-called Freedom to Farm law that eliminated many government subsidies and regulations dating from the 1930s.

Wedding his agriculture and foreign-policy concerns, Lugar was an early supporter of federal research on ethanol, a gasoline substitute produced from corn, a major crop in Indiana.

“Farmers are presented with the opportunity to produce a cash crop by collecting their agricultural wastes,” Lugar said in a 2005 speech.

Lugar-Obama Initiative

Originally elected as a conservative, Lugar developed a reputation as a moderate Republican with no qualms about working with Democrats on legislation. In 2007, he and then-Senator Obama from neighboring Illinois cooperated on the Lugar-Obama proliferation and threat reduction initiative, aimed at preventing terrorists from getting weapons such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Lugar lost his bid for a seventh Senate term in 2012 when a challenger with strong Tea Party support defeated him in the Republican primary election.

Richard Green Lugar was born on April 4, 1932, in Indianapolis, according to his Congressional profile. His parents, Marvin Lugar and the former Bertha Green, farmed more than 600 acres outside of Indianapolis.

Young Dick Lugar became an Eagle Scout and sold war bonds door-to-door, according to the 2012 biography “Richard G. Lugar: Statesman of the Senate” by John Shaw. He graduated first in his high-school class but lost when he ran for senior class president.

Rhodes Scholar

In 1954, Lugar earned a bachelor’s degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and attended Pembroke College at the University of Oxford in England.

From 1957 to 1960, Lugar served in the U.S. Navy, where he became an intelligence briefer to Admiral Arleigh Burke, then chief of naval operations.

“Burke was a mentor for me on how America as a world power makes a difference,” Lugar told his biographer.

Back in Indianapolis, Lugar managed the family farm and helped run a food-machinery business. He served on the school board and, in 1968, he was elected to the first of two terms as mayor. His major accomplishment was merging Indianapolis with its wealthier suburbs, expanding the population by 50 percent and the area by a factor of four. He claimed the enlarged city would be better able to address challenges and fund operations, according to his biography.

Nixon’s Favorite Mayor

Lugar was widely touted as President Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor, and Indianapolis received millions in federal block grants under the administration’s “New Federalism” program. He campaigned around the country for Nixon and delivered a keynote address at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. After losing his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1974, Lugar encouraged speculation that he might run for president in 1976, according to contemporary news accounts.

Instead, he ran for the Senate again and won that year.

In 1996, Lugar sought the 1996 Republican nomination for president, sporting the slogan “Nuclear security and fiscal sanity.” He struggled in early primaries and withdrew in March.

Tea Party Challenger

His 36 years in the Senate ended after Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party conservative, beat him in the 2012 Republican primary. In defeat, Lugar issued a statement excoriating the hard-right governing philosophy as “reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party,” according to a New York Times article.

After upsetting Lugar, Mourdock lost in the 2012 general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who previously served as Lugar’s chief of staff, called him “not just the finest public servant I will ever know, he was the finest person.”

“I greatly enjoyed serving with him,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon wrote on Twitter. “His leadership on ratification of the New START Treaty was a tremendous contribution to global nonproliferation -- it wouldn’t have happened without him.”

In retirement, the senator opened the Lugar Center, focused on global food issues and weapons of mass destruction.

Lugar was married to the former Charlene Smeltzer. They had four sons, Mark, Robert, John and David.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.