Former Rep. Ike Skelton, a veteran public servant and Democrat who represented west-central Missouri for 17 terms in Congress, died Monday at age 81. Skelton died at Virginia Medical Center, according to several media outlets.
Skelton, one of the last vestiges of Missouri's strong Democratic past and its links to Harry Truman, served as House Armed Services chairman from 2007 to 2011. Truman, who was close to Skelton's father, actually urged him to run for Congress as early as 1962. Ike Skelton did not do so at the time, although he eventually ran for and won a Missouri Senate seat in 1970 and served there until he was elected to Congress in 1976. He was defeated in 2010 by now-Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican.
Skelton was the archetypal yellow dog Democrat: moderate-to-conservative on social issues, with a populist streak on economic issues and a strong hawk on defense and foreign policy. Before serving as Armed Services chairman, Skelton was the panel's ranking Democrat from 1999 to 2007, when his party was in the minority. After being displaced in the 2010 GOP wave by Hartzler, Skelton went to work for the Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell, and worked in the firm's office in both Kansas City and D.C.
Skelton's death, coming on the heels of the passing of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., earlier this month, represents a changing of the guard for Congress's old defense bulls. Young, who at the time of his death chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was in his 22nd term in Congress. Between the two of them, they represented almost 77 full years in the House.
"The passing of Ike Skelton is a terrible loss for our nation. Ike was a giant in the lives of those who knew him, but he also affected the lives of so many who never had the opportunity to meet him," said current House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., who took Skelton's place as the panel's top Democrat in the last Congress.