Montanans are mourning the loss today of longtime U.S. Senator John Melcher, who passed away at his home in Missoula. He was 93.
Melcher had a storied career in local, state and national politics. He represented Montana in Congress for 20 years in the 1970's and 80's, serving first in the U.S. House and then the U.S. Senate.
He also was a veteran -- awarded the Purple Heart after he was wounded in World War II. Melcher, who was a veterinarian from Forsyth started his career in politics on the Forsyth City Council.
He served as mayor and then state lawmaker, before becoming a congressman representing Montana's old eastern district in 1969. Seven years later, Melcher won the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mike Mansfield, who was retiring.
Melcher spent much of his career focusing on farm and food issues but also had a reputation as a maverick, He was one of just three senators who voted against a landmark 1986 tax-reform bill – and was also a Democrat who opposed abortion.
One of Melcher’s final efforts as a senator may have played a role in his undoing: A 1988 bill setting aside 1.4 million acres of wilderness in Montana and opening up another 4 million acres to logging and other potential development.
I think the bill is going to pass as is, as it passed the Senate," Melcher said at the time.
But President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill just days before the 1988 election and his opponent -- Republican Conrad Burns -- then portrayed Melcher as ineffective.
In an upset, Burns defeated Melcher 52%-to48% thus becoming the first Republicans to win a U-S Senate race in Montana in 42 years. Melcher did attempt a comeback six years later – but lost in the Democratic Senate primary.
MISSOULA - Former Montana U.S. Senator John Melcher has passed away at age of 93.
Melcher served in US House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and then as a US Senator from 1977 until 1989.
Governor Steve Bullock issued the following statement on the Democrats passing on Friday afternoon:
“Senator Melcher was a statesman whose legacy of decency and dedication to public service and to the people of Montana set a high bar for all those who followed in his footsteps. Lisa and my thoughts are with John's family, colleagues and friends during this difficult time."