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Texas elects first Republican senator since Reconstruction

May
27
1961

On this day in 1961, Texas voters made John Tower the first Republican senator elected in the state since 1870. Tower, born in Houston in 1925, ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1954 and served as a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1956. By 1960 he was sufficiently well known to be nominated at the state Republican convention to run against Lyndon B. Johnson for senator. Johnson easily won the election but resigned his seat when he was also elected vice president. Tower led the ensuing special election and won the runoff. In his twenty-four year Senate career, Tower influenced a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues, especially defense and banking. After Tower resigned from the Senate in 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed him chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. In 1986, Reagan appointed him to chair the so-called Tower Commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. In 1989 Tower was President George Bush's choice to become secretary of defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination because of his conservative political views and alleged excessive drinking and womanizing. Tower died, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash in Georgia in 1991.

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