CHICAGO (AP) — Thomas Railsback, an Illinois Republican congressman who helped draw up articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1974, has died at age 87.
Railsback died Monday in Mesa, Arizona, where he lived in a nursing home in recent years, former Republican congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday.
“He would have been 88 today,” LaHood said, adding that because of Railsback’s age his body was beginning to break down. “It’s sad that Tom is gone. But it’s a blessing that he passed. He was suffering during the last few years.”
Railsback represented the 19th Congressional District for 16 years and was the second-ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee when it was conducting the impeachment inquiry into Nixon. The inquiry was prompted by Nixon’s actions in the wake of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate office building.
Railsback credited Nixon with getting him elected to Congress in 1966 by campaigning for him in western Illinois.
“I feel badly about what happened to Nixon,” Railsback told the Idaho Statesman in 2012. ”On the other hand, after listening to the (White House) tapes and seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.”
Railsback, a graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa who earned his law degree at Northwestern University, served in the Illinois House of Representatives before defeating freshman Democrat Gale Schisler for the 19th District congressional seat.
Railsback said he believes he lost his seat in the 1982 Republican primary to state Sen. Kenneth G. McMillan, described by LaHood as “very conservative,” in part due to his impeachment vote. McMillan lost to Lane Evans, who held the seat for 20 years.
LaHood worked for Railsback from 1977 to 1982 and said he brought him into politics.
“He taught me the good things about politics and public service,’’ LaHood said Tuesday. ”The way to be a good public servant is to work for the people.”
LaHood said Railsback talked to him about his decision to support the impeachment of Nixon, one of only a few Republicans to do so.
“He said he looked at all the evidence,” LaHood said. ”He felt an obligation to the Constitution and to do what is right.”
According to LaHood, Railsback was saddened by the current state of affairs in Washington and the unwillingness of people to compromise. He called Railsback’s death “the end of an era in politics.”
Railsback was one of four Republicans and three conservative Democrats who drafted two of the three impeachment articles against Nixon, which were adopted by the House. Nixon resigned before a trial in the Senate.
In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, Railsback noted the Democrats won by a landslide in the 1974 Congressional elections, bringing in “a group of brash” legislators he said helped create an atmosphere of ”division and unease.” He said that by the time of the Clinton impeachment inquiry, the Judiciary Committee was much more partisan and the climate in Congress in 2014 “appeared even more fractured.”
Railsback moved to Mesa from Idaho and retired after holding several jobs, including an executive with the Motion Picture Association of America. He is survived by his second wife, Joye, and four daughters.