Lugar era ends after 36 years in Senate

2012-12-30T00:00:00Z 2012-12-31T00:42:04Z Lugar era ends after 36 years in SenateDan Carden, (317) 637-9078
December 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | For the first time in a generation, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., will not be seated at his desk in the ornate Senate chamber when a new Congress convenes on Thursday.

Hoosier Republicans rejected Lugar's bid for a seventh term in a Tea Party-fueled May primary race against State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who went on to lose badly in the general election to U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger. Preprimary polls showed Lugar likely would have defeated Donnelly if he had been the Republican nominee. 

Nevertheless, the 80-year-old Lugar insists the end of his 47-year career in public service, including 36 years in the U.S. Senate, is not the end of his commitment to make Indiana, the United States and the world a better place.

He's announced plans to continue working on nuclear disarmament, international relations and energy, technology and agricultural policy as a professor at the University of Indianapolis and Georgetown University while also leading the Richard G. Lugar Institute for Diplomacy at the German Marshall Fund.

"I am looking forward to devoting deeper attention to a number of issues that have been a part of my Senate service and working with students and future leaders on how we can solve the world’s most complex problems," Lugar said.

Lugar's future in academia is, in a sense, a return to his past. The Indianapolis native was a Rhodes Scholar, earning bachelor's and master's degrees at Pembroke College, Oxford, prior to beginning his career in public service on the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners in 1964.

Three years later, at age 35, Lugar was elected to the first of his two terms as mayor of Indianapolis.

He implemented "Unigov," uniting many of the smaller cities and towns in Marion County under the Indianapolis name, and pioneered the Indianapolis sports strategy that turned the state's capital city into a center for amateur athletics and, later, professional sports.

In 1974, Lugar set his eyes on the U.S. Senate and nearly defeated U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., in a terrible year for Republicans following Watergate. Two years later, with the assistance of top aide (and future Indiana governor) Mitch Daniels, Lugar walloped U.S. Sen. Vance Hartke, D-Ind., 59 percent to 40 percent.

As a senator, Lugar focused on foreign relations and agriculture, serving as chairman of both committees twice during his tenure. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 but dropped out when fellow U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., proved over several primaries he had greater support.

Many consider his greatest accomplishment to be the 1992 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. To this day, Nunn-Lugar assists nations of the former Soviet Union in dismantling and safely disposing of their nuclear, biological and chemical weapons -- preventing them or their components from falling in the hands of a terrorist or other enemy of the United States.

Democratic President Barack Obama, whose first foreign trip as an Illinois U.S. senator was with Lugar on a 2005 weapons inspection visit to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, said this month that Lugar's threat-reduction partnership with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., has moved the world closer to "a future where these weapons never threaten our children again."

"Your legacy will endure in a safer and more secure world, and a safer and more secure America. And we pray that this nation produces more leaders with your sense of decency and civility and integrity," Obama told Lugar on Dec. 3.

Lugar embraced the themes of bipartisanship and cooperation for the greater good in his final speech to the Senate on Dec. 12. He emphatically urged his colleagues to focus on governing over politics.

"In a perfect world, we would not only govern, we would execute a coherent strategy," Lugar said. "That is a very high bar for any legislative body to clear, but we must aspire to it in cooperation with the president, because we are facing fundamental changes in the world order that will deeply affect America’s security and standard of living."

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