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Paul M. Simon

In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Charles H. Percy
Succeeded by Richard Durbin

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 24th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1983
Preceded by Kenneth J. Gray
Succeeded by District eliminated

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 22nd district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1985
Preceded by Dan Crane
Succeeded by Kenneth J. Gray

In office
January 13, 1969 – January 8, 1973
Governor Richard B. Ogilvie
Preceded by Samuel H. Shapiro (1968)
Succeeded by Neil Hartigan

Born November 29, 1928(1928-11-29)
Eugene, Oregon
Died December 9, 2003 (aged 75)
Springfield, Illinois
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jeanne Hurley Simon, Patricia Derge
Alma mater University of Oregon
Dana College
Profession Newspaperman, intelligence officer
Religion Lutheran
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1951-1953
Battles/wars Korean War

Paul Martin Simon (November 29, 1928 – December 9, 2003) was an American politician from Illinois. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985 and United States Senate from 1985 to 1997. He was a member of the Democratic Party. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

He later served as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in Carbondale, starting in 1997. There, he taught classes on politics, history and journalism.

Simon was noted during his career for his distinctive appearance that included a bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses.


Early political years

Simon, the son of a Lutheran minister who was a missionary to China, was born in Eugene, Oregon shortly after his parents were forced back to America following a controversy about what the appropriate Chinese term for God should be. He attended the University of Oregon and Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, but never graduated. After meeting with local Lions Club members, he borrowed $3,600 to take over the defunct Troy Call newspaper in 1948, becoming the nations' youngest editor-publisher of the renamed Troy Tribune in Troy, Madison County, Illinois, eventually building a chain of 14 weeklies. His activism against gambling, prostitution, and government corruption while at the Troy Tribune forced the newly-elected governor, Adlai Stevenson, to take a stand on these issues, creating national exposure for Simon that later resulted in his testifying before the Kefauver Commission.[1]

Simon served in the United States Army during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953, becoming an intelligence officer. Upon his discharge, he began his political career, serving in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1955 to 1963. As a state legislator, he worked to achieve fiscal responsibility and to expand public utilities in rural parts of the state that did not yet have them. He was also active in promoting civil rights, and once hosted an event attended by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

He was one of the youngest elected state legislators in Illinois history (at 26 he was only a year older than Abraham Lincoln had been when he entered the state legislature). He upset two Democratic Party machine candidates, and adopted his trademark bowtie when a newspaper account of a debate stated "the man with the bowtie did well." When he married Jeanne Hurley Simon on April 21, 1960, she was a member of the state legislature (1957–1961) and it was the first time in Illinois history that two sitting members of the General Assembly were married to each other. They had two children, Sheila and Martin. She did not seek re-election but was an integral part of Simon's rise to national prominence. She later became a successful lawyer and author, and served as chairperson of National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. She died in February 2000 of brain cancer.[2] Upon her death, Illinois senator Richard Durbin delivered a tribute to Mrs. Simon on the senate floor.[3]

In 2001, Simon married Patricia Derge.

He moved to the Illinois State Senate in 1963, serving there until 1968. He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Illinois in 1968 and served from 1969 to 1973. As a Democrat, he served with Republican Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. His bipartisan teamwork with Ogilvie produced the state's first income tax and paved the way for the state constitutional convention in 1969, which created the fourth and current Illinois Constitution. The Ogilvie-Simon ticket was the only one in Illinois history in which the governor and lieutenant governor were from opposing political parties. (On least two other occasions there was an acting Lt. Governor from the opposing party. The state constitution ratified in 1970 requires the governor and lieutenant governor to run and be elected together on a joint ticket.)

His 1972 campaign to win the Democratic nomination for governor was upset by Dan Walker, who went on to win in the general election.

Rise to national prominence

Following his defeat, Simon became an adjunct professor at Sangamon State University in Springfield, Illinois in 1973, where he taught a course entitled "Non-Fiction Magazine and Book Writing," drawing upon his own experience as the author of four books. He taught at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1973.

He resumed his political career and was elected as a Democrat to the 94th Congress in 1974 and was reelected to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1975–January 3, 1985). He then ran and was elected to the United States Senate in 1984. Simon upset three-term incumbent Charles H. Percy with 50% of the vote to win the election.

In 1987–88, he sought the Democratic nomination for President, narrowly losing the Iowa caucus to U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri. Gephardt won 31.24 percent of the weighted delegates to Simon's 26.68 percent, a margin of 4.56 points. Simon finished third in New Hampshire primary and won the Illinois primary, but Michael Dukakis went on to win the Democratic nomination. Because he briefly captured the national attention and was considered a major candidate, he made an appearance on the popular television show Saturday Night Live, co-hosting with musician Paul Simon.[4] Simon also "appeared" from time to time on SNL, as an impression by comedian Al Franken, who would run for and win a Senate seat in real life, also as a Democrat, some two decades later.

He won re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1990 by defeating U.S. Representative Lynn Morley Martin with 65 percent of the vote and by nearly 1 million votes – the largest plurality of any contested candidate for senator or governor of either party that year. While serving in the Senate, he co-authored an unsuccessful Balanced Budget Amendment with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.[5]

Simon was remembered for famously criticizing President George H. W. Bush during the 1992 presidential campaign when Bush made an attempt to play on his central role in overseeing the collapse of the Soviet bloc and aggressively promoting the successes of his own presidency and the preceding Reagan administration in Eastern Europe during a speech at Chicago's Taste of Polonia. An attempt by Bush to woo Chicago's Polish community to win Illinois (an important state in the election) was roundly denounced by Simon, and Bush eventually lost the state.[6] Simon did not seek reelection in 1996.

He was a prolific author. He came to national prominence in the 1960s, due in part to his well-researched book, Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years. Despite being published 100 years after Abraham Lincoln's death, it was the first book to exhaustively cite original source documents from Lincoln's eight years in the General Assembly. He later went on to write more than 20 books on a wide range of topics, including interfaith marriages (he was a Lutheran and his wife, Jeanne, was a Catholic), global water shortages, United States Supreme Court nomination battles that focused heavily on his personal experiences with Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas (he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee during these hearings), his autobiography, and even a well-received book on slain Illinois preacher Elijah Lovejoy. His last book, Our Culture of Pandering, was published in October 2003.

After his retirement from politics, he continued to play a role in public life by writing books, and through the SIU Public Policy Institute, which was named for him after his death.

Political positions

An avowed social liberal, Simon spent his career denouncing racism, supporting women's rights, and encouraging equality for racial and ethnic minorities. He was a fiscal conservative who described himself as "a pay-as-you-go Democrat." As a senator, he overhauled the college student loan program to allow students and their families to borrow directly from the federal government, thus saving money by not using private banks to disperse the loans.[7]

He fiercely took a stand against obscenity and violence in the media in the 1990s. His efforts against media violence partly led to the adoption of V-chip.[8]

He opposed the Contract with America and Clintonian welfare reforms, and was one of 21 senators who voted against the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.[9]

In foreign affairs, he promoted the military response to Somalia during the presidency of George H.W. Bush,[10] and he was an outspoken critic of President Bill Clinton's response to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Simon believed America should have acted faster, and Clinton later said his belated response was the biggest mistake of his presidency.[11] He is, together with Jim Jeffords, credited by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1993 to 1994, for actively lobbying the U.S. administration into mounting a humanitarian mission to Rwanda during the genocide. According to Dallaire's book Shake Hands with the Devil, he "owe[s] a great debt of gratitude" to both senators.

Simon was also a supporter of Taiwan and opposed United States' policy to isolate Taiwan. He was one of the Senators that convinced President Clinton to allow the visit of then-Republic of China President Lee Teng-hui to visit the United States.[12]

Simon was a staunch opponent to the mandatory minimum sentence. In 1996 he and libertarian researcher Dave Kopel co-authored an article in National Law Journal denouncing the practice.[13]

Public Policy Institute

Simon lived for many years in the small town of Makanda, south of Carbondale, where he was a professor and director of the SIU Public Policy Institute. While there, he tried to foster the Institute into becoming a think tank that could advance the lives of all people.

Activities included going to Liberia and Croatia to monitor their elections, bringing major speakers to campus, denouncing the death penalty, trying to end the United States embargo against Cuba,[14] fostering political courage among his students, and promoting amendments to the Constitution to end the Electoral College and to limit the president to a single six-year term of office. Concerning the Electoral College during the controversial Election 2000 fiasco, Simon said, "I think if somebody gets the majority vote, they should be president. But, I don't think the system is going to be changed."

Simon believed modern presidents practice "followship," rather than leadership, saying, "We have been more and more leaning on polls to decide what we're going to do, and you don't get leadership from polls... and not just at the presidential level. It's happening with senators, House members and even state legislators sometimes [when they] conduct polls to find out where people stand on something."[15]

Personal life

Simon is the brother of Arthur Simon, founder of Bread for the World.

In 1960, Simon married state Rep. Jeanne Hurley (Simon)(ca.1923–2000). The Simons had 2 children and were married for nearly 40 years. Mrs. Simon died in 2000 at the age of 77 due to brain cancer.

Simon remarried in May 2001 to Patricia Derge. Both Simon and his second wife were widowed. The marriage lasted until his death 2-1/2 years later at the age of 75. His widow is also the widow of former Southern Illinois University president David Derge.

Death and aftermath

Simon died in Springfield, Illinois following heart surgery at the age of 75 in 2003. WBBM-TV (CBS 2 Chicago) reported his death as a "massive gastric blow-out." Just four days before, despite being hospitalized and awaiting surgery, he had endorsed Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid in a telephone conference call he conducted from his hospital bed.[16] He was also an early supporter of Barack Obama's bid for the Democratic nomination for the Senate, having made a television commercial that later aired in downstate Illinois after his death. His endorsement was used effectively and was considered a major reason for Obama's surprise victory in the Democratic primary. In the Senate, Obama praised Simon as a "dear friend."[17] In July 2005, the U.S. Senator Paul Simon Museum was opened in Troy, Illinois, where Simon lived for 25 years. It includes memorabilia throughout his life, including the desk and camera from his days as a young editor of the Troy Tribune, items from his presidential campaign, and his lieutenant governor license plates.[18]


  • Simon made a brief cameo as himself in the 1993 political drama film Dave.[19]
  • Simon's daughter, Sheila Simon, served as councilwoman of Carbondale.

See also


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel H. Shapiro
Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Neil Hartigan
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Kenneth J. Gray
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 24th congressional district

District eliminated
Preceded by
Dan Crane
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 22nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Kenneth J. Gray
United States Senate
Preceded by
Charles H. Percy
United States Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
Served alongside: Alan J. Dixon, Carol Moseley Braun
Succeeded by
Richard Durbin


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