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With great sorrow I advise of the death Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014 of Philip M. Crane, a long-time Congressman from Illinois and leader of the national conservative movement. He died peacefully at the home of his daughter Rebekah Crane in Jefferson, Maryland. The cause was lung cancer. He was 84.
Mr. Crane first went to Congress in a special election in 1969, held in the 13th Congressional District of Illinois when Donald Rumsfeld left Congress to go into the Executive Branch. He was redistricted into the 12th and then the 8th Districts, and served continuously until January 2005, a period of 35 years.
In the very early 1970s he established and led what became the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives
In 1978 he was elected Chairman of the American Conservative Union and served in that capacity for two years. His votes in the House of Representatives earned a lifetime ACU rating of 99%.
In 1994 Mr. Crane was very active and very generous in his support of my candidacy for President of the Cook County Board. My wife, Kathy, and I became particularly fond of Phil and his wife, Arlene, who, alas, preceded him in death in 2012.
Mr. Crane was born in Chicago, Illinois on November 3, 1930 to George W. Crane III, M.D., and Cora Ellen Miller Crane. He received his undergraduate degree from Hillsdale College in 1952 and went on to earn a PhD in history from Indiana University in 1963. He served in the US Army from 1954-1956 and taught history at Indiana University and Bradley University.
He gained national recognition in politics through his work on the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964. While working as an Assistant Professor of History at Bradley University (1963-1967), Mr. Crane proved to be a popular and charismatic public speaker on behalf of Goldwater. Through these efforts and his book, The Democrat/s Dilemma which came out in 1964, Mr. Crane became a leading national figure in the fledgling conservative movement.
While serving as headmaster of Westminster Academy in Chicago in 1969, Mr. Crane was urged to enter a special election race triggered by the appointment of then Illinois Congressman Donald Rumsfeld to the Nixon Administration. Mr. Crane won the primary and went onto win the election, serving in that seat from 1969 until his defeat (by Melissa Bean) in November 2004.
As a leader of the conservative movement in Congress, Mr. Crane was instrumental in the founding of a number of conservative organizations that flourish to this day. In 1973, he founded the Republican Study Committee which is the preeminent GOP conservative organization in the House of Representatives. In that same year, he was a leader in the effort to form the Heritage Foundation which has grown into one of the most well known and respected conservative think tanks in the world.
In Congress, Crane spent most of his career serving on the Ways and Means Committee. There he championed lower taxes, a simplified tax code, free market economics, and free trade. He was the ranking member and eventually Chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee. There he led the effort to pass numerous free trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He was the leader of efforts, ultimately successful, to repeal laws that prohibited Americans from owning gold, buying, selling, and possessing gold. He also was very active in efforts to reduce or limit government spending and authored and supported hundreds of bills and amendments to accomplish those ends.
His passion for history and the US Constitution was always evident in his public speeches and floor debate as he routinely cited historical events and the Constitution to make his case. Crane also wrote numerous books. In addition to his most celebrated work, The Democrat’s Dilemma, he also wrote the The Sum of Good Government in 1976, and Surrender in Panama: The Case Against the Treaty in 1978. (He also composed a work of popular music, a Christmas song, “Little Sandy Sleighfoot”, which was recorded in 1957 by James Dean and initially sold some 300,000 records.)
In addition to his efforts on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Mr. Crane was actively/directly involved in Presidential politics in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the first sitting Congressman to come out and openly support Ronald Reagan’s effort to defeat then-President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential primary. When it appeared that Mr. Reagan was not going to run in the next presidential election, Mr. Crane threw his hat in the ring in 1978 to run for the 1980 GOP nomination, only to have Mr. Reagan enter the race later. Mr. Crane eventually withdrew from the race throwing his support to Reagan.
While Phil Crane was a fierce partisan in debate and on the campaign trail, he was very personable and well liked by members of both parties with whom he served. He was well known for his great sense of humor and was a master joke teller and prankster as anyone who spent time with him would soon discover. He took pride in hand writing hundreds of letters over the years to family, friends and constituents and was particularly quick to write a note to friends or colleagues who were facing difficult times or had lost a loved one.
A loving father and husband, Mr. Crane was preceded in death by his parents, George and Cora Crane , his wife, Arlene, his brother, George, and his daughter, Rachel. He is survived by his siblings, Judith Crane Ross, Daniel Crane, and David Crane, and his children, Catherine Hott, Susanna Crane, Rebekah Crane, Jennifer Oliver, Sarah Crane, George Crane, and Carrie Crane and by numerous grandchildren.
Services are expected to be Thursday, November 13, 2014, at Loudoun Funeral Chapels in Leesburg, Virginia, with burial near the family farm in Indiana. If and when I have further information about visitation and funeral arrangements I will pass it along.
May his memory always be a blessing.