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Former Senator, VP Candidate Bentsen Dies

Lloyd Bentsen (right) speaks at a White House press conference announcing his retirement as Treasury secretary in 1994. President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin (far left), Judy Rubin and Chief of Staff Leon Panetta look on.
Robert Giroux
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AFP/Getty Images
Lloyd Bentsen (right) speaks at a White House press conference announcing his retirement as Treasury secretary in 1994. President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin (far left), Judy Rubin and Chief of Staff Leon Panetta look on.

HOUSTON (AP) -- Lloyd Bentsen, a courtly Texan who represented the state in Congress for 28 years and served as President Clinton's first treasury secretary, died Tuesday morning, his family said. He was 85.

Bentsen, also the Democratic 1988 vice presidential nominee, died at his home in Houston.

His distinguished political career took him from the humble beginnings of a county office in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1940s to six years in the U.S. House, 22 in the U.S. Senate and two in the Clinton Cabinet, where he was instrumental in directing the administration's economic policy.

By 1988, Bentsen was one of the Senate's most respected voices. That year, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis tapped the elder statesman as his running mate.

Bentsen provided one of the highlights of the '88 campaign when he zinged rival Dan Quayle during a televised debate with the now-famous putdown: "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket went down hard, losing 40 states -- including Texas -- to the Bush-Quayle team.

A shrewd legislative operator, Bentsen maneuvered with ease in Democratic and Republican circles alike on Capitol Hill, crafting deals behind the scenes in a dispassionate, reserved fashion.

Chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee for six years, Bentsen was a solidly pro-business Democrat who compiled a record as a staunch advocate of international trade and protector of the oil and gas industry.

Former U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen described his uncle's life as incredible.

"He not only achieved a lot but took advantage to make his state, his nation and the world better," Bentsen said in a December 2003 interview.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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