From the depths of my childhood...as a ten-year-old, I had the great fortune to travel to Washington, D.C. in April of 1987. While in Washington, I got to see the typical tourist fare, the Air and Space Museum, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Monticello, etc. I also got to meet one of my Senators in his office. This Senator was William Proxmire. I really didn't know much about government or politics at the time...that knowledge was still long in my future, but he still made quite an impression. A teacher of mine arranged the appointment at his office, and my mom and I were there to talk to him about gifted and talented education...a program still in its infancy, especially in central Wisconsin. I don't know if anything came of our talk, but knowing that he was interested enough to talk to us is a strong testament to the type of leader he was. I am especially proud as a Wisconsinite to know that Herb Kohl is filling the Senate seat that Bill Proxmire once held. Over the past nearly 50 years, they did everything possible to remove the tarnish placed on it by Joseph McCarthy.
Rest in Peace, Bill, and know that you left Wisconsin and the nation a better place because of your efforts.
From The Capital Times (Madison):
William Proxmire, a maverick Wisconsin Democrat who gained national fame for his crusade against government waste and served 32 years in the U.S. Senate, died early today at age 90 at a convalescent home near Baltimore.
Proxmire had fought a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
The Associated Press reported that he died around midnight at the Copper Ridge Alzheimer's care facility in Sykesville, Md.
A gifted orator and tireless campaigner, Proxmire - who had lost three consecutive gubernatorial elections - won his first U.S. Senate race in 1957 by upsetting Walter Kohler in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
He served Wisconsin with distinction over the next three decades before shocking friends and colleagues by announcing he would not seek re-election in 1988.
He was best known for the one-man campaign he waged against government waste with his monthly "Golden Fleece Awards," although it won him few friends among liberal Democrats. He once gave one of the dubious awards to a federally funded research project on why people fall in love.
"I don't want to know the answer," the senator said.
He also crusaded for the Senate to ratify the international Genocide Convention, which it finally did in 1988.
One of his biggest victories came in 1971 when he stopped government funding for the supersonic transport plane. He also set a Senate record by going more than two decades without missing a roll call vote.
"I am deeply saddened today at the passing of former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire, a great Wisconsin statesman and dear friend," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said in a statement this morning.
"Sen. Proxmire leaves behind an unparalleled legacy as a defender of the American taxpayer and one of the hardest-working senators in U.S. history. Today my thoughts are with his wife Ellen and his entire family."
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, in a statement, saluted Proxmire as "a great senator, a great Wisconsinite, and a great man." "He was a proud gadfly - the conscience of the Senate - reminding his colleagues daily of the dangers of financial misbehavior, the sins of wasteful spending, and the crime of genocide."
Democratic Rep. David Obey, the dean of the Wisconsin congressional delegation, said that Proxmire's election helped make Wisconsin a two-party state after years of Republican domination.
"He was 100 percent always on the side of the little guy," said Obey, D-Wausau. "He hated government waste, and he hated abuse of power."
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, said Proxmire was "a hero to all Wisconsinites who value honesty, integrity, and common sense in their leaders and in government."