Thomas Fisher Railsback (January 22, 1932 – January 20, 2020) was an American politician who served eight terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1967–1983 as the member of Congress for Illinois's 19th congressional district, a district in the middle of the state.
1 Early life, education, and military service
2 Political career
3 Later life
4 Personal life
6 External links
Early life, education, and military service
Railsback was born on January 22, 1932, in Moline, Illinois, to municipal lawyer Fred Railsback and Elizabeth (Johnson) Railsback. He attended public schools in Moline, received a B.A. from Grinnell College in 1954, and received a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago in 1957. He served in the United States Army from 1957 to 1959.
Railsback served as a member of the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1962 to 1966 before being elected as a Republican to Congress in 1966, defeating Democrat Gale Schisler, who was seeking a second term.
Although inspired to enter politics by Barry Goldwater, Railsback became a moderate Republican while in the House. He served on the House Judiciary Committee. Railsback and his Democratic colleague Walter Flowers are credited as being the key figures who built what Railsback called a "fragile bipartisan coalition" to adopt articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee. Railsback helped craft a compromise article charging the president with abuse of power by obstructing the Watergate investigation. In July 1974, the Judiciary Committee voted 27–11 to adopt the articles of impeachment; Railsback was one of six Republicans (out of the 17 Republicans on the committee) to join all 21 Democrats in advancing articles of impeachment to the House floor. In an emotional speech on the House floor, he said that his obligations to uphold the Constitution superseded his personal loyalties to Nixon, a friend who Railsback praised as having many significant achievements. Support for Nixon's impeachment among congressional Republicans was the key factor leading to Nixon's decision to resign his office the next month. Although Railsback's decision prompted vitriol from pro-Nixon commentators and constituents, he went on to be re-elected four more times.
While in the House, Railsback had a key role in the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. In 1979, he and Wisconsin Democrat David Obey co-sponsored legislation to reduce the influence of political action committees in election spending. He opposed Ronald Reagan's effort to abolish and eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provided legal aid to poor Americans.
In 1980, Railsback was one of three U.S. House members, along with future Vice President Dan Quayle of Indiana and Tom Evans of Delaware, involved in the controversial Florida golfing trip with lobbyist Paula Parkinson.
Over eight terms in office, Railsback had established strong political support in his district; the Washington Post noted that "He took what might have been a marginal district—a mixture of rural Republican counties and a labor stronghold in Moline-Rock Island—and built a secure political base by salting his GOP voting record with support for civil rights and some labor positions." In 1982, however, Illinois had lost two districts in reapportionment after the 1980 census, and through redistricting, Railsback's district (now renumbered as the 17th District) changed in composition to become significantly more conservative. He was defeated for renomination in the 1982 Republican primary by a considerably more conservative Republican, State Senator Kenneth G. McMillan. McMillan was defeated by Democrat Lane Evans in November.
Railsback was a mentor to Raymond H. LaHood, who worked for Railsback from 1977 to 1982 before becoming a U.S. Representative himself, and later U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration.
After leaving Congress, Railsback worked as a lobbyist. He was executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America and also worked for the Federal Judges Association as its Washington coordinator.
Railsback married Patricia Sloan in 1955, and they had four daughters. The marriage ended in divorce. Railsback later married Joyelyn (Silver) Railsback, known as Joye. He had 19 grandchildren.
Railsback retired to Idaho, where and his wife lived in McCall and Meridian.
He died on January 20, 2020, in Mesa, Arizona, after a period of declining health.
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