William Proxmire

Infobox Senator | name=William Proxmire

jr/sr=United States Senator
term_start=August 28, 1957
term_end=January 3, 1989
preceded=Joseph McCarthy
succeeded=Herbert Kohl
date of birth=birth date|1915|11|11|mf=y
place of birth=Lake Forest, Illinois
date of death=death date and age|2005|12|15|1915|11|11
place of death=Sykesville, Maryland
spouse=Elsie Proxmire (div.)
Ellen Proxmire
religion=United Church of Christ

Edward William Proxmire (November 11, 1915December 15, 2005) was a member of the Democratic Party, who served in the United States Senate for the state of Wisconsin from 1957 to 1989.

Personal life

Proxmire graduated from The Hill School (in Pottstown, Pennsylvania) in 1933Severo, Richard. [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/national/16proxmire.html "William Proxmire, Maverick Democratic Senator From Wisconsin, Is Dead at 90"] , "The New York Times", December 16, 2005. Accessed October 31, 2007. "The family was well-to-do, and he was sent to the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., and then to Yale, where he was an English major."] , Yale University in 1938, Harvard Business School in 1940, and Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1948. During World War II he served as a member of the Military Intelligence Service.

After getting his second master's degree, Proxmire moved to Wisconsin to be a reporter for "The Capital Times" in Madison and to stake out a political career in a favorable state. "They fired me after I'd been there seven months, for labor activities and impertinence," he once said.

In 1946, he married Elsie Rockefeller, a great-granddaughter of William Rockefeller, brother and partner of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. They had two children, Theodore, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and Elsie Proxmire Zwerner, of Scottsdale, Arizona. Elsie Proxmire received an uncontested divorce in 1955. She later married Miles J. McMillin, who had worked with Proxmire as the editor and publisher of "The Capital Times". McMillin shot Elsie to death in December 1982. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9F01E3DE1438F937A15751C1A964948260 Wife of Former Editor Dies of Gunshot Wound] "The New York Times", December 24, 1982]

In 1956, Proxmire married Ellen Hodges Sawall, who brought two children of her own to the marriage, Mary Ellen Poulos, now of Milwaukee, and Jan Licht, now of Naperville, Illinois. Together, the couple had two sons, William, who died in infancy, and Douglas, who lives in McLean, Virginia. Nine grandchildren survive Proxmire.

He was also known for his personal fitness, which included jogging and push-ups, so earning him the moniker "Push Up". In 1973, he published a book about staying in shape, entitled "You Can Do It: Senator Proxmire's Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan".

After leaving Congress, Proxmire had an office in the Library of Congress.

After a long and difficult battle with Alzheimer's disease [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A05E1DB1539F935A25750C0A96E958260 Alzheimer's Disease Strikes Ex-Senator] "The New York Times", March 16, 1998] , Proxmire died in a nursing home, where he had lived for more than four years, in Sykesville, Maryland on December 15, 2005, aged 90.

Legislative career

Proxmire served as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1951 to 1952 and was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 1952, 1954 and 1956. Proxmire was elected, in a special election on August 28, 1957, to fill the remainder of the term vacated due to the death of Senator Joseph McCarthy, on May 2, 1957. He was reelected in 1958, 1964, 1970, 1976 and 1982. His reelections were always by wide margins, including 71% of the vote in 1970, 73% in 1976 and 65% in 1982, when he ran for a fifth six-year term.

Proxmire holds the U.S. Senate record for consecutive roll call votes cast: 10,252 between April 20, 1966 and October 18, 1988. The previous record of 2,941 was held by Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.

Proxmire served as the Chair of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1975 to 1981 and again from 1987 to 1989.

He was an early, outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He frequently criticized Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for their conduct of the war and foreign policy decisions. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects. His Golden Fleece Award was created to focus media attention on projects he felt were self-serving and wasted taxpayer dollars. He was also head of the campaign to cancel the American supersonic transport. However despite his support of budgetary restraint in other areas he normally sided with dairy interests and was a proponent of dairy price supports. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,841136,00.html Backward March - Time] [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKproxmire.htm Adam Bernstein quoted in Biography: William Proxmire] [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/national/16proxmire.html?pagewanted=print Obituary - New York Times]

As Chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Proxmire was instrumental in devising the financial plan that saved New York City from bankruptcy in 1976–77.

In his last two Senate campaigns of 1976 and 1982, Proxmire refused to take any campaign contributions, and spent on each less than $200 out of his own pocket—to cover the expenses related to filing for re-election and return postage for unsolicited contributions. He was an early advocate of campaign finance reform.

Proxmire's campaigning consisted primarily of standing at the entrance to the state fair or a county fair, or in the parking lot of a Packers', Braves or Brewers game and shaking hands with attendees to the event, stating "Hi, I'm Bill Proxmire." If someone had a question at these events for him, he told them to write a letter to him. He wrapped bandages around his fingers to prevent blisters.

Proxmire was famous for issuing his Golden Fleece Awards, which identifed wasteful government spending between 1975 and 1988. The first one was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were "awarded" to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel ("The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy," reported the "New York Times"), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying "the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the 'length of the buttocks.'" [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/national/16proxmire.html?ex=1292389200&en=375fa02ed1dfde2f&ei=5090]

Proxmire's critics claimed that some of his awards went to basic science projects that led to important breakthroughs, such as the Aspen Movie Map. He was heavily criticized for this by journalist Stewart Brand, and Proxmire later apologized for several of those, including SETI. As with pork barrel spending on defense projects, he successfully stopped numerous science and academic projects of dubious value.

One winner of the Golden Fleece Award, Ronald Hutchinson, was so outraged that he sued Proxmire for defamation in 1976. Proxmire claimed that his statements about Hutchinson's research were protected by the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that Clause does not immunize members of Congress from liability for defamatory statements made outside of formal congressional proceedings ("Hutchinson v. Proxmire", ussc|443|111|1979). The case was later settled out of court. (New York Times, Aug. 28, 1987)

From 1967 until 1986, Proxmire gave daily speeches noting the necessity of ratifying The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. After giving this speech every day that the Senate was in session for 20 years, resulting in 3,211 speeches, the convention was ratified by the U.S. Senate by a vote on 83–11 on February 11, 1986.


* William Proxmire, "Your Joy Ride to Health". Proxmire Publishing Co. 1994. ISBN 0963798820
*William Proxmire, "The Fleecing of America". Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980. ISBN 039529133X
*William Proxmire, "You Can Do It!: Senator Proxmire's Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan". Simon & Schuster, 1973. ISBN 0671215760
* William Proxmire, "Can Congress Control Spending?" American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington DC, 1973. ISBN 0844720399
*William Proxmire, "Uncle Sam — The Last of the Bigtime Spenders". Simon & Schuster, 1972. ISBN 0671214322
*William Proxmire & Paul H. Douglas, "Report from Wasteland; America's Military-Industrial Complex". Praeger Publishing, 1970.
*William Proxmire, "Can Small Business Survive?" H. Regnery Co., 1964. ISBN 040511477X


ee also

* Agricultural policy of the United States
* Golden Fleece Award
* Interest group
* Pork barrel

External links

* [http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary/index.asp?action=view&term_id=1848&keyword=proxmire William Proxmire, Wisconsin Historical Society]
*cite news|url=http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/national/16proxmire.html?ex=1292389200&en=375fa02ed1dfde2f&ei=5090|title=William Proxmire, Maverick Democratic Senator From Wisconsin, Is Dead at 90|date=December 16, 2005|publisher="The New York Times"
* [http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/12/17/as_senator_a_tenacious_proxmire_had_a_good_run/ "As senator, a tenacious Proxmire had a good run"] —"The Boston Globe"
* [http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=377745 Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan budget watchdog, lists Sen. William Proxmire's top 10 Golden Fleece Awards from 1975 to 1988]

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