Ike Skelton, a conservative Democrat who represented Missouri in the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years, died Monday in Arlington, Va. He was 81.
Skelton died at Virginia Hospital Center, surrounded by his wife, his sons and their families as well as longtime colleague Russell Orban, who confirmed the death. The cause was not immediately released, but Orban said Skelton entered the hospital a week earlier with a bad cough.
Skelton was a military expert who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and was a protector of military bases in Missouri.
He was a great friend...he had absolute, total, thorough integrity, Vice President Joe Biden tweeted Monday night.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called Skelton a role model to whom I had the honor of presenting Missouris highest military honor, the Conspicuous Service Medal. Ike Skelton inspired us all with his quiet dignity and tireless commitment to Americas men and women in uniform.
A friend to Missourians, Americans and liberty-loving people worldwide, Congressman Skelton embodied the true meaning of public service and will forever be remembered as a leader who left a legacy of greater prosperity and security for his district, our state and our nation, Nixon said.
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland called Skelton an extraordinary American
And I had the privilege of serving alongside him in Congress for nearly 30 years where I saw his compassion, his humility, and his deep-rooted Missouri values up close, Hoyer said. Ike was an incredible soul, a caring man who loved service and championed all who gave of themselves for their country and communities.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, also praised Skelton.
No member of the Congress was more dedicated to Americas defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton, Blunt said. He loved our country and its history and will be remembered for his contributions to both.
Said Missouri Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple: He was a Missourian, a statesman and a champion of a strong and sensible national defense. And above all, he was a gentleman. His love of and faith in America was unshakable and his support for the U.S. military was second to none. This is a loss for Missouri and the nation.
Lexington was Skeltons hometown. He was first elected prosecutor in Lafayette County and served in the Missouri Senate before going to Washington in 1976, the year Jimmy Carter took the White House.
Skelton represented Missouris 4th Congressional District in the western and central part of the state. He easily kept his seat for 17 election cycles in a district and state that increasingly trended Republican.
Skelton was a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat who voted against the Affordable Care Act.
He was defeated in 2010 by Republican state lawmaker Vicky Hartzler, who had strong tea party backing.
Ike exuded civility, said Richard Martin, a long-time Democratic consultant. He had great friends on both sides of the aisle. All the Democrats I ever met looked up to him despite their differences they often had with him on issues, and Republicans as well.
He was a statesman -- not a highly charismatic guy. He didnt aspire to run for higher office. Once he was elected to the Congress and assigned to the Armed Services Committee, I think he knew that was his calling, and he was going to make the most of it.