Former GOP Rep. George Nethercutt, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994, dies at 79

SEATTLE– Former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, a Spokane lawyer with little political experience when he ousted Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley as part of a stunning Republican wave that shifted national politics to the right in 1994, has died. He was 79.

Nethercutt died Friday near Denver of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurodegenerative brain disease, his son said in an email Monday.

“He lived a life based on faith, family, community and service, never sacrificing his principles as a statesman,” wrote Elliott Nethercutt.

The 1994 midterm elections, which took place halfway through President Bill Clinton’s first term, were a resounding victory for Republicans, who gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.

Nethercutt was the chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party and had served as chief of staff to Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska in the 1970s, but had not run for office before challenging Foley.

Foley represented the district for thirty years, the last five as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Nethercutt’s campaign ads focused on Foley’s opposition to term limits and pointed out that Foley had been in office since “Bonanza” was the top show on television.

Foley was the first speaker to lose a re-election bid since 1860.

Nethercutt joined other 1994 Republican candidates in signing the Contract With America, a list of conservative priorities promoted by Rep. Newt Gingrich and others. One of those priorities was the adoption of term limits; Nethercutt said he would serve no more than three terms, but broke that promise and served five before giving up the seat to make an unsuccessful run against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in 2004.

“George Nethercutt was a giant among men who served the people of Eastern Washington with honor and patriotism for a decade,” the Republican said. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who now holds the former seat of Nethercutt, said in a Facebook post. “George was a man of character who led with kindness and conviction, and he was a person I proudly looked up to long before the day I was sworn in as representative of the Fifth District for which we shared such a love.”

His priorities during his time in office included finding new international markets for agricultural products from eastern Washington, securing federal money for Fairchild Air Force Base and supporting research grants at Washington State University.

Like many other Republicans elected during the 1994 wave, he had a conservative voting record and supported Clinton’s impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

He became a lobbyist after his term in Congress and worked with his George Nethercutt Foundation, which promoted citizenship education through grants, competitions and educational trips to Washington.

Nethercutt then attended memorial services for Foley he died in 2013, and two years ago he joined the advisory board of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University.

He also established a fund at the university to create the George Nethercutt Endowed Lecture Series on Civic Engagement.

“Since 2008, my foundation has promoted civic education among students so that they are prepared to participate in our democratic system – a system that depends on the participation of informed citizens, open dialogue and compromise to function properly,” Nethercutt said at the time . .

Nethercutt was born in Spokane in 1944 and graduated from Washington State University before graduating from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1971. As a law student, he briefly clerked for Foley’s father, Ralph Foley, who was a judge on the Spokane County Superior Court.

Nethercutt is survived by his wife, Mary Beth Nethercutt, whom he married in 1977; two children, Meredith Nethercutt Krisher and Elliott Nethercutt; sister Nancy Nethercutt Gustafson; brother John Irving Nethercutt; and granddaughter Holly Beth Krisher.