May 23, 2006

Former senator, Treasury chief Bentsen dies

By Jeff Franks

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator and Treasury
Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, who ran unsuccessfully for vice
president in 1988, died on Tuesday at the age of 85, a family
spokesman said.

Bentsen's tall stature and southern drawl gave him a
gentlemanly air, but the Texas Democrat is perhaps best known
for his verbal ferocity in denouncing his 1988 Republican
opponent, Sen. Dan Quayle, as "no Jack Kennedy."

Bentsen had been in ill health since suffering two strokes
in 1998 that left him confined to a wheelchair and unable to
speak very well.

He came from a wealthy family in far south Texas and rose
through the political ranks to become one of the last in a long
line of powerful Democrats from the state, which now is
dominated by Republicans.

Bentsen was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970, ousting
liberal incumbent Ralph Yarborough in the Democratic primary,
then defeating Republican and future President George H.W. Bush
in the general election.

Six years later, he made a run for the Democratic
presidential nomination, but pulled out after losing in early
caucuses to the eventual winner, Jimmy Carter.

Bentsen, a moderate, pro-business Democrat, chaired the
powerful Senate Finance Committee from 1987 through 1992.

When Bill Clinton became president the following year, he
tapped Bentsen to be his Treasury secretary.

In 1988, Bentsen was the running mate for Democratic
presidential nominee Michael Dukakis when the Texan faced
Quayle in a nationally televised vice presidential debate.

After the 41-year-old Quayle claimed to have as much
experience in Congress as John Kennedy did when he ran for
president, Bentsen, then 67, said scornfully: "Senator, I knew
Jack Kennedy. I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a
friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

The exchange was regarded as devastating to Quayle, but the
Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost the election.

In Washington, politicians on both sides of the aisle
praised Bentsen as a good public servant.

"Lloyd Bentsen's distinguished career earned him a
reputation as a giant in Texas politics. He was a powerful
voice for our state, and he will be deeply missed," said U.S.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

"I adored Lloyd Bentsen. He was such an extraordinary
leader and public servant. He had a great presence that filled
up any room he walked into," said U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"He and his wife B.A. are dear friends of ours and knew he
wasn't doing well, but I'm just so sorry to hear we've lost
him," she said.