U.S. Senator from Texas, 69th U.S.
Secretary of the Treasury
Senator Lloyd Bentsen was a four-term United
States senator (1971 until 1993) from Texas and the Democratic
Vice President in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket. He also
served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955. In
his later political life, he was Chairman of the Senate Finance
Committee and the U.S. Treasury Secretary during the early
years of the Clinton administration.
Bentsen was born in Mission, Texas,
to the grandchildren of Danish immigrants. He was born to first
Lloyd Millard Bentsen, Sr., and the former Edna Ruth Colbath.
Bentsen was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished
Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated
from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942, where he
was a respected Brother of the Upsilon Chapter (0484) of The
Sigma Nu International fraternity. Upon graduation, he served
in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. After
brief service as a private in intelligence work in Brazil,
he became a pilot and in early 1944 began flying World War
II combat missions in B-24s from southern Italy with the 449th
Bomb Group. At the age of 23, he was promoted to the rank of
major and given command of a squadron of 600 men, overseeing
the operations of 15 bombers, their crews, and maintenance
In 15 months of combat, Bentsen flew 35 missions against many
highly defended targets including the Ploes,ti oil fields in
Romania, which were critical to the Nazi war production. The
15th Air Force, to which the 449th Bomb Group was assigned,
is credited with destroying all of the petroleum production
within its range, which equated to about half of Germany's
sources of fuel on the continent. Major Bentsen's unit also
flew against communications centers, aircraft factories and
industrial targets in Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Bentsen participated in bombing
raids in support of the Anzio campaign and flew bombers against
hard targets in preparation for the landing in southern France.
Bentsen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of
the Army Air Corps' and now the Air Force's highest commendations
for achievement or heroism in flight. In addition to the Distinguished
Flying Cross, Bentsen was awarded the Air Medal with three
Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Medal and each subsequent cluster
award were awarded for completing specific numbers of combat
missions. Before completing his military service, he was promoted
to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
Early Political Career
After the war, Bentsen
returned to his native Rio Grande Valley. He served the people
of his home area from
1946 to 1955, first as Hidalgo County Judge (a largely administrative
post as opposed to judicial duties) before serving three successive
terms in the United States House of Representatives. In each
of his three campaigns for the House, Bentsen was unopposed
in the general election. While sitting as a member of the House,
Bentsen advocated using atomic weapons against North Korean
cities if they did not withdraw north of the 38th parallel.
In 1954, he declined to seek reelection and entered what was
to become a prosperous career in business.
For 16 years, Bentsen worked in the financial sector in Houston.
He was successful and became very secure financially. By 1970,
he had become president of Lincoln Consolidated, a financial
Return To Politics Following his successful primary campaign,
which upset liberal incumbent Ralph Yarborough for the 1970
for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, Bentsen resigned all management
positions and directorships.
Later that year, Bentsen went on to win the general election
when he was pitted against Congressman and future President
George H. W. Bush. On election night, Bentsen beat Bush convincingly.
1976 Presidential Campaign Beginning in 1974, Bentsen campaigned for the Democratic Party's
1976 presidential nomination. In 1974 he visited 30 states
and raised $350,000 at a single fundraiser in Texas. Bentsen
formally announced his candidacy on February 17, 1975 and in
the early part of that year he had already raised over $1 million
for his campaign; only George Wallace of Alabama and Henry
M. 'Scoop' Jackson of Washington had raised more money by that
point. Bentsen did not organize effectively on a national level,
and many observers believed the freshman senator was running
without any real hope of winning the nomination, hoping instead
to secure a vice-presidential nomination.
Wallace and Jackson were considered to be the two main contenders
for the moderate to conservative voters whom Bentsen would
appeal; early in the campaign few foresaw Jimmy Carter of Georgia
also effectively appealing to that group.
By October 1975 Bentsen, generating little national attention
or significance in the polls, scaled back his campaign to a
limited effort in areas of 8 to 10 states, hoping for a deadlocked
convention. In the first state contest Bentsen vigorously contested,
he managed only 1.6% of the vote in Mississippi. Two weeks
later Bentsen staked the remainder of his campaign and resources
in neighboring Oklahoma but finished third with only 12%. A
few days later Bentsen shut down his national campaign, staying
in the race only as a favorite son in Texas. However, in the
May 1, 1976 primary Jimmy Carter won 92 of Texas' 98 delegates.
The eventual nominee and president, Carter was later quoted
as saying he had expected a much stronger showing by Bentsen
but that Bentsen's failure to campaign nationally had ended
Senate Career Firmly ensconced in Washington, Bentsen
was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate in 1976, 1982,
and 1988. He defeated
sitting Republican congressmen from "safe" House
seats in all four of his Senate elections, including Bush in
1970. In 1976, he ended the career of Alan Steelman of Dallas.
In 1982, he defeated James M. Collins of Dallas. In 1988, he
defeated Beau Boulter of Amarillo. Bentsen was also on the
ballot as the Democratic vice presidential nominee that year;
he could seek both offices under the 1960 "Johnson law."
Bentsen was known as a moderate Democrat. His support for abortion,
the Equal Rights Amendment, and civil rights was balanced by
his endorsement of public school prayer, capital punishment,
tax cuts, and deregulation of industry. He generally supported
business interests in the arena of economic policy and swiftly
rose to become a power to be reckoned with on the Senate Finance
Bentsen's reputation as a moderate Democrat served to alienate
him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from
prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970
Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith
endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected
to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new,
more conservative Texas Democratic Party, and that the long-term
interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat.
1988 Vice Presidential Candidate In 1988 Governor Michael Dukakis (MA) chose
him to be his running mate in that year's presidential election.
Bentsen was selected
in large part to secure the state of Texas and its electoral
vote for the Democrats. Because of Bentsen's status of something
of an elder statesman who was more experienced in elected politics,
many believed Dukakis' selection of Bentsen as his running
mate was a mistake in that Bentsen, number two on the ticket,
appeared more "presidential" than did Dukakis. One
elector in West Virginia even cast a ballot for him rather
than Dukakis in voting, giving him one electoral vote for President.
He was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of
the campaign during his televised debate with Republican Vice
Presidential nominee Dan Quayle. Quayle noted that he had as
much political experience as John F. Kennedy when Kennedy ran
for office. Bentsen fired back with the retort "Senator,
I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy
was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." This
is one of the few times that Quayle responded to Bentsen in
the debate, as Quayle spent most of the time to attack Dukakis
The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost the election. Bentsen was unable
to swing his home state, with 43 percent of the Texas vote
going for the Dukakis ticket while Bush and Quayle took 56
His stature enhanced, Bentsen considered running for president
in 1992, but he, along with many other Democrats, backed out
because of Bush's apparent popularity from the outcome of The
Gulf War. A controversy arose during that time when Bentsen
cancelled his membership in but then rejoined a whites-only
Later Political Career He resigned from the Senate in January 1993 to serve as the
69th secretary of the treasury under Clinton from 1993 to 1994.
While Secretary, Bentsen successfully urged Clinton to pursue
relatively pro-business and deficit-reducing economic policies.
Clinton's selection of Bentsen for his Cabinet was criticized
by some Democrats, when a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison,
won the special election in June 1993, for the year and a half
left in Bentsen's term. As secretary of the treasury, Bentsen
helped to shepherd Clinton's first budget through Congress.
President Clinton awarded Bentsen the Presidential Medal of
Freedom in 1999.
In 1998, Bentsen suffered two strokes, which left him needing
a wheelchair for mobility. He appeared in the summer of 2004
at the portrait unveilings at the White House of Bill and Hillary
Two hundred seventy miles of U.S. Highway 59, from I-35 to
I-45 in Texas (between Laredo and Houston, respectively), is
officially named the Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway.
Bentsen's family continues to be active in politics. His nephew,
Ken Bentsen, Jr., was a U.S. Representative (D) from 1995 to
2003 in Texas's 25th District, and a U.S. Senate candidate
in 2002. His grandson, Lloyd Bentsen IV, served on John Kerry's
advance staff during Kerry's 2004 campaign for the Presidency
of the United States.
Bentsen died on May 23, 2006, at his home in Houston at the
age of eighty-five. He was survived by his wife, the former
Beryl Ann Longino, three children, and several grandchildren.
His funeral was held on May 30 at the First Presbyterian Church
of Houston. Former President Bill Clinton, who was a close
friend of Bentsen's, delivered a eulogy.
Referenced from Wikipedia.com:
• Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress