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May 2019 Hero of the Month: Dick Lugar, retired Senator

In an era when politics has definitely gotten nastier, it is worth remembering a kind and good man who always conducted himself with dignity and stayed the course as a moderate. Dick Lugar (R- Indiana) passed this month at the age of 87. He had a career that few will emulate any time soon.

He as a six-term senator (yes, 36 years in the Senate), most of which was spent on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he twice served as Chairman. Dick began his career in public service on the Indianapolis school board, where he led the effort to integrate his own former high school and turn it into the first integrated magnet school in the US. For that, he was defeated in his re-election bid. In 1977, he was elected mayor of Indianapolis and just a year later he was elected to the Senate: by any standards, a meteoric trajectory in politics.

He was always a soft spoken man in a city (Washington, D.C.) not known for rewarding thoughtful people over brash partisans. An Eagle Scout and Rhodes Scholar, he never claimed to be a colorful personality.
Bill Ruckelshaus, himself a gifted leader at the EPA and a fellow Hoosier, once roasted his friend by saying: “Dick has maintained that childhood capability of walking into an empty room and blending right in.” But he will be best remembered for what he did when the Senate needed real leadership and the Chamber was full: “When he spoke in the Senate, people listened because they knew he had independently thought through his position and weighed it on the merits.”

He was one of the most effective leaders over four decades in the Senate, where he championed finding solutions for ending apartheid in South Africa (he voted as part of a successful bi-partisan effort to override President Reagan’s veto of anti-apartheid legislation) and peacefully ousting Philippine strongman and corrupt President Ferdinand Marcos. He opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was instrumental in securing the former Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction after the collapse of the USSR. Sadly, he was defeated for re-election in 2012 by a Tea Party candidate, prompting Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) to say: “this is a tragedy for the Senate.”

A moderate conservative who came of age in the Cold War, he viewed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the most serious threat to national security and it was in that area he left his greatest mark, with the help of his friend and fellow moderate, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia). The Nunn-Lugar Soviet Threat Reduction Act of 1991 created financial support to assist the Russians and former Soviet republics secure their arsenals and in many cases dismantle them, including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and facilities. For a better appreciation of its accomplishments, see with financial support from the Untied States totaling $1.6 Billion, the Russians disposed of 7,600 nuclear warheads that were located all over their country and former satellites in such places as Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and dismantled and permanently disposed of 2,400 land and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The warheads were then sent back to Russia and disassembled; the United States then purchased the enriched uranium under a separately funded program and used the nuclear material for re-fueling our commercial nuclear power plants.

Senator Lugar receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2013)

The significance of this program cannot be underestimated: it gave badly needed work to Russia’s nuclear industry and eliminated the temptation to sell weapons and fissionable materials to nations that were not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the time, Russian and its former satellites were in economic free-fall and could not afford either the cost of the program or even the cost of properly guarding the weapons storage facilities because there were so many. For that effort, Sam and Dick deserved but never received the Nobel Peace Prize. However, in the picture shown above, President Obama awarded Senator Lugar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

In 2008, he received an award for ethics in government and spoke eloquently and passionately about the need for bipartisanship and compromise: “bipartisanship is not simply a willingness to reach compromise, but the only sensible way to govern over the long term…the problem with heavy reliance on opposing the other party is that whatever is won today through division is usually lost tomorrow. The relationships that are destroyed and the ill-will that is created make subsequent achievements that much more difficult. Cynicism and political vendettas deplete the natural reserves of good will that are critical to our survival in hard times.”

R.I.P. Senator. Job well done. A grateful nation remembers and honors your service. — Jim

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