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Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Jr. (February 11, 1921 – May 23, 2006) was a four-term United States senator (1971 until 1993) from Texasmarker and the Democratic Party nominee for Vice President in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket. He also served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955. In his later political life, he was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the U.S. Treasury Secretary during the early years of the Clinton administration.

Early life

Bentsen was born in Missionmarker in Hidalgo Countymarker in south Texas; his parents were Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Sr., a first-generation Danish American, and the former Edna Ruth Colbath. Bentsen was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He attended Sharyland High School. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942 where he was a member of the Texas Cowboys. Upon graduation, he served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. After brief service as a private in intelligence work in Brazilmarker, he became a pilot and in early 1944 began flying World War II combat missions in B-24s from southern Italymarker with the 449th Bomb Group. At the age of 23, he was promoted to the rank ofmajor and given command of a squadron of 600 men, overseeing the operations of 15 bombers, their crews, and maintenance units.

In fifteen months of combat, Bentsen flew thirty-five missions against many heavily defended targets including the Ploestimarker oil fields in Romaniamarker, which were critical to the Nazi war production. The 15th Air Force, to which the 449th Bomb Group was assigned, is credited with destroying all of the petroleum production within its range, which equated to about half of Germany's sources of fuel on the continent. Major Bentsen's unit also flew against communications centers, aircraft factories and industrial targets in Germanymarker, Italy, Austriamarker, Czechoslovakiamarker, Hungarymarker, Romania, and Bulgariamarker. Bentsen participated in bombing raids in support of the Anziomarker campaign and flew bombers against hard targets in preparation for the landing in southern Francemarker.

Bentsen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the Army Air Corps' and now the Air Force's highest commendations for achievement or heroism in flight. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bentsen was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal and each subsequent cluster award were awarded for completing specific numbers of combat missions. Before completing his military service, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

Early political career

After the war, Bentsen returned to his native Rio Grande Valley. He served the people of his home area from 1946 to 1955, first as Hidalgo Countymarker Judge (a largely administrative post as opposed to judicial duties) before serving three successive terms in the United States House of Representatives. In each of his three campaigns for the House, Bentsen was unopposed in the general election. While sitting as a member of the House, Bentsen advocated using atomic weapons against North Korean cities if they did not withdraw north of the 38th parallel. In 1954, he declined to seek reelection and entered what was to become a prosperous career in business.

Business career

For 16 years, Bentsen worked in the financial sector in Houstonmarker. He was successful and became very secure financially. By 1970, he had become president of Lincoln Consolidated, a financial holding institution.

Return to politics

Following his successful primary campaign, which upset liberal incumbent Ralph Yarborough for the 1970 Democratic nomination for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, Bentsen resigned all management positions and directorships.

Later that year, Bentsen went on to win the general election when he was pitted against Congressman and future President George H. W. Bush. On election night, Bentsen beat Bush convincingly.

1976 presidential campaign

Beginning in 1974, Bentsen campaigned for the Democratic Party's 1976 presidential nomination. In 1974 he visited 30 states and raised $350,000 at a single fundraiser in Texas. Bentsen formally announced his candidacy on February 17, 1975, and in the early part of that year he had already raised over $1 million for his campaign; only George Wallace of Alabamamarker and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson of Washingtonmarker had raised more money by that point. Bentsen did not organize effectively on a national level, and many observers believed the freshman senator was running without any real hope of winning the nomination, hoping instead to secure a vice-presidential nomination.

Wallace and Jackson were considered to be the two main contenders for the moderate to conservative voters to whom Bentsen would appeal; early in the campaign few foresaw Jimmy Carter of Georgiamarker also effectively appealing to that group.

By October 1975 Bentsen, generating little national attention or significance in the polls, scaled back his campaign to a limited effort in areas of 8 to 10 states, hoping for a deadlocked convention. In the first state contest Bentsen vigorously contested, he managed only 1.6% of the vote in Mississippimarker. Two weeks later Bentsen staked the remainder of his campaign and resources in neighboring Oklahomamarker but finished third with only 12%. A few days later Bentsen shut down his national campaign, staying in the race only as a favorite son in Texas. However, in the May 1, 1976, primary Jimmy Carter won 92 of Texas' 98 delegates. The eventual nominee and president, Carter was later quoted as saying he had expected a much stronger showing by Bentsen but that Bentsen's failure to campaign nationally had ended his hopes.

Senate career

Bentsen in his early career
Firmly ensconced in Washingtonmarker, Bentsen was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate in 1976, 1982, and 1988. He defeated sitting Republican congressmen from "safe" House seats in all four of his Senate elections, including Bush in 1970. In 1976, he ended the career of Alan Steelman of Dallasmarker. In 1982, he defeated James M. Collins of Dallasmarker. In 1988, he defeated Beau Boulter of Amarillomarker. Bentsen was also on the ballot as the Democratic vice presidential nominee that year; he could seek both offices under the 1960 "Johnson law."

Bentsen was known as a moderate Democrat. His support for abortion rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and civil rights was balanced by his endorsement of public school prayer, capital punishment, tax cuts, and deregulation of industry. He generally supported business interests in the arena of economic policy and swiftly rose to become a power to be reckoned with on the Senate Finance Committee.

Bentsen's reputation as a moderate Democrat served to alienate him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970 Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new, more conservative Texas Democratic Party, and that the long-term interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat.

1988 Vice Presidential candidate

Bentsen was on Walter Mondale's "short list" of seven or eight possible vice presidential candidates in 1984 and was the only southerner and one of three white males considered. In the end, Mondale chose New York U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

In 1988 Governor Michael Dukakis (Massachusettsmarker) chose Bentsen to be his running mate in that year's presidential election, beating out Ohio Senator John Glenn who was considered the early favorite. Bentsen was selected in large part to secure the state of Texas and its electoral vote for the Democrats. Because of Bentsen's status of something of an elder statesman who was more experienced in elected politics, many believed Dukakis' selection of Bentsen as his running mate was a mistake in that Bentsen, number two on the ticket, appeared more "presidential" than did Dukakis. One elector in West Virginiamarker even cast a ballot for him rather than Dukakis in voting, giving him one electoral vote for President.

He was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of the campaign during his televised debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle. Quayle stated that he had as much political experience as John F. Kennedy had when he ran for the presidency. Bentsen retorted, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Quayle responded by saying, "That was really uncalled for, Senator." Bentsen responded, "You're the one that was making the comparison, Senator."

The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost the election. Bentsen was unable to swing his home state, with 43 percent of the Texas vote going for the Dukakis ticket while Bush and Quayle took 56 percent.

Bentsen considered running for president in 1992, but he, along with many other Democrats, backed out because of Bush's apparent popularity following the successful Gulf War (Bush ended up losing the election to Bill Clinton by a large margin).


Official portrait as Secretary of the Treasury
Bentsen's signature, as used on American currency
Bentsen resigned from the Senate in January 1993 to serve as the 69th Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton from 1993 to 1994. Clinton's selection of Bentsen for his Cabinet was criticized by some Democrats, when a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, won the special election in June 1993, for the year and a half left in Bentsen's term. As Secretary of the Treasury, Bentsen helped to shepherd Clinton's first budget through Congress.

After resignation of Les Aspin in early 1994, Bentsen was seriously considered to be moved from position of Secretary of the Treasury to Secretary of Defense. These plans, however, did not materialize and William Perry, then Defense Deputy Secretary, was chosen to replace Aspin instead.

In early December 1994, Bentsen announced his resignation from his position as Secretary of the Treasury. Before election day he had discussed with President Clinton that he was not prepared to stay in office until 1996. He was succeeded in the position by Robert Rubin.

Later life

In 1998, Bentsen suffered two strokes, which left him needing a wheelchair for mobility. In 1999 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. He appeared in the summer of 2004 at the portrait unveilings at the White House of former President Bill Clinton, and former First Lady, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Bentsen died on May 23, 2006, at his home in Houston at the age of 85. He was survived by his wife, the former Beryl Ann Longino, three children, and several grandchildren. His funeral was held on May 30 at the First Presbyterian Church of Houston (where Bentsen and his wife had been members for many years) and is interred there in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery. Former president Bill Clinton, who was a close friend of Bentsen's, delivered a eulogy.


Two hundred seventy miles of U.S. Highway 59, from I-35 to I-45 in Texas (between Laredomarker and Houstonmarker, respectively), is officially named "Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway."

Bentsen's family continues to be active in politics. His nephew, Ken Bentsen, Jr., was a U.S. Representative (D) from 1995 to 2003 in Texas's 25th District, and a U.S. Senate candidate in 2002. His grandson, Lloyd Bentsen IV, served on John Kerry's advance staff during Kerry's 2004 campaign for the presidency of the United States.

He is celebrated for inventing the term astroturfing.

On January 22, 2009, the opening ceremony of the Senator Lloyd and B.A. Stroke Research Center officially commenced in the Fayez S. Sarofim Research Building in the medical district of Houston, TXmarker as part of the University of Texas Health Science Center of Houston. Notable speakers included Dr. Cheng Chi Lee and Houston Mayor Bill White.

Electoral history


  1. Secretaries of the Treasury
  2. Great Speeches at The History Channel
  3. [1]
  4. George Stephanopoulos, All Too Human. A Political Education, 1999
  5. Bentsen is Poised to Leave Cabinet Officials Confirm

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