WASHINGTON – Veteran Congressman John Anderson, who served for 20 years in the House of Representatives, has died at a nursing home in Washington, local media reported on Monday. He was 95.
After a long career in the Republican Party, Anderson – who died on Sunday – made headlines in 1980 when he ran for president as an independent, on the ticket of his National Unity Party, coming in a distant third in the nationwide vote won by Ronald Reagan.
Although he came in third, he won the admiration of a significant portion of the public for his positions on major issues.
Anderson managed to obtain 7.1 percent of the votes, significantly more than expected, despite going up against two political heavyweights: President Jimmy Carter and Reagan, a well-known actor and former California governor.
Analysts said that the Illinois congressman drew more votes from Carter than he did from Reagan, thus helping to hand the former actor a landslide victory.
John Bayard Anderson was born on Feb. 15, 1922 in the small town of Rockford, Illinois, enduring a difficult childhood as the son of a Swedish immigrant and going on to fight with the US military in Europe in World War II. He majored in political science, received two law degrees, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and served for a time in the US Foreign Service, where he met his wife.
Before launching his independent political career, Anderson pursued a typical congressional career with the Republican Party, being elected to the lower house in 1961, but he became steadily more liberal as that party drifted to the right during the 1960s and 1970s.
He was a fervent defender of his party’s conservative economic policies but did not appreciate its intransigence on social issues, which motivated him to become a respected voice across a good portion of the bipartisan political spectrum.
He supported the rule prohibiting housing segregation after days of protests following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite pressure from his GOP colleagues, Anderson decided to line up with the Democratic opposition and provide the vote needed to allow the bill to be debated in the House.
Years later, in 1974, he turned his back on the GOP again by urging President Richard Nixon to resign.
Although his presidential run will perhaps remain just a footnote to history, Anderson said that he had no sense of failure after his effort since he believed he had opened the door so that other independent-minded politicians might follow him.
After leaving politics, having served for 10 terms, Anderson devoted himself to academia, lecturing and writing. He is survived by his wife Keke Machakos and their five children.