JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.— Ike Skelton, a former 17-term U.S. Representative from central and southern Missouri, passed away Monday evening at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., at the age of 81.
Skelton was a longtime staple of Missouri politics, elected to the Missouri Senate during 1970 where he oversaw the state’s overhaul of the criminal code, he won his congressional seat in 1976 after an endorsement from Bess Truman, the widow of former U.S. President Harry Truman.
Skelton was the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, one of the most powerful committee’s in Washington. He was recognized across Washington as an expert on military affairs and national security. His position on armed services proved invaluable. At one time, both Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood were in Skelton’s district. Skelton is largely credited with making Whiteman the “home” of the B-2 bomber, while Fort Leonard Wood is known as a prominent training base for multiple branches of the military.
Skelton was a moderate and even conservative Democrat. He was pro-life, anti-gun control and a vocal supporter of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy. Though he originally voted to invade Iraq, Skelton became an increasingly outspoken critic of the war and the Bush Administration as the conflict waned on.
He also stood with many of his fellow Democrats in opposing the 1981 tax cuts offered by President Ronald Reagan as well as the Bush tax cuts. Skelton’s district trended more Republican during his final terms, with Republican presidential candidates regularly winning most of the counties in his district, often by wide margins. But Skelton rarely had serious challenges.
While many assumed his retirement would give Republicans the seat, Skelton was instead upset by Rep. Vicki Hartzler, who beat Skelton in the wave of conservative GOP candidates that helped wrest the majority from Democrats in the House of Representatives in 2010. Hartzler’s victory over a congressman with more than 30 years in Washington made national news during a year that was particularly rough for Democratic politicians.
“I am deeply saddened at the passing of my predecessor and respected friend, Ike Skelton,” Hartzler said in a release. “I have appreciated our conversations over the past two and a half years and the commitment we shared to see Missouri’s 4th District prosper. I am thankful for Ike’s tireless efforts on behalf of our men and women in uniform and know our country is safer as a result of his unwavering leadership. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
After his defeat, Skelton joined the massive Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell law firm and was named by President Obama to the World War I Centennial Commission. His autobiography, “Achieve the Honorable,” was released only a few weeks ago.
Skelton was re-married in 2009 after his first wife of 44 years, Susan, died. Skelton is survived by his second wife, Patty, and his three sons: Ike Skelton V, James Anding Skelton and Harry Page Skelton.
“Ike Skelton was a man of absolute integrity,” long-time Missouri lobbyist John Britton said. “He did what he thought was right and what was proper. And he was also able to maintain a sense of humor. If you’re going to do a profile of a classic legislator and leader, Ike is a good place to start.”
Additional remarks were offered via releases from Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, Congressman Lacy Clay and Attorney General Chris Koster.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.