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Bob Graham, longtime US senator and 2-term Florida governor, dies

Former US Sen. Bob Graham talks to reporters about a recently released section of the 2002 House Intelligence Committee inquiry into the attacks of September 11, 2001, during a news conference at the National Press Club August 31, 2016, in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bob Graham, a former US senator and two-term Democratic governor who was one of Florida’s most popular politicians, has died. He was 87.

“We are deeply saddened to report the passing of a visionary leader, dedicated public servant, and even more importantly, a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” his family said in a statement posted by his daughter Tuesday.

“Bob Graham devoted his life to the betterment of the world around him,” the statement continued.

Graham spent nearly four decades in public service representing Florida, first serving in the state legislature and then in the governor’s mansion before going to Washington as a US senator.

His tenure as a three-term senator included chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-leading the congressional investigation into the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was a primary author of parts of the 2001 Patriot Act that dealt with improving the sharing of intelligence between US domestic and foreign intelligence agencies.

He emerged as a harsh critic of George W. Bush on Iraq, arguing that the Republican president was not doing enough for homeland security and was wrongly focused on that war, which he had instigated, instead of on al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and had voted in 2002 against authorizing military force against Iraq.

While in Congress, he sported ties with images of Florida and maintained a meticulous diary of his daily activities.

As a Democrat who hadn’t lost an election in the pivotal swing state of Florida, Graham was considered a few times as a running mate to Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore. And his appearance as an adulterous husband in a Jimmy Buffett music video for “Who’s the Blonde Stranger” may have cost him the chance to be on the 1998 Democratic ticket with Michael Dukakis, according to Time magazine.

The video’s content wasn’t the issue, Graham explained to the magazine.

“They were concerned I hadn’t listed any payment on my financial-disclosure form,” Graham said. “But Jimmy never paid me a dime.”

Graham sought the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination to face off against Bush, but bowed out of the race that year feeling that his campaign lacked sufficient funds and organization to catch up to the other nine Democratic candidates.

Graham also blamed his late entry into the race, due in part to having to undergo heart surgery to replace a deteriorating valve.

“He was a rare collection of public accomplishments and personal traits that combined to make him unforgettable. As his family, we will never forget his love for us, the love he had for Florida, the United States, and the world, and the love so many people showed him. We thank God for the gift of his life,” the family’s statement said.

Public figures and officials on both sides of the aisle remembered the former senator Tuesday night.

Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott said Graham dedicated his life to Florida. “His legacy will live forever, not because of any title he held, but for what he did with those opportunities to improve Florida and the lives of families in the Sunshine State,” Scott said in a post on X.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Graham a “patriotic American” and great senator.

“He sponsored and led the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11, and he bravely opposed entry into the war in Iraq,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “He brought his love for his family and for his state of Florida to the Senate, where he served with immense dignity and courage.”

Trademark ‘workdays’ helped him connect with constituents

Graham was born in Coral Gables, Florida, to a family that owned a dairy and cattle farm. His half-brother Phillip Graham would become the publisher of The Washington Post through his marriage to Katharine Graham (nee Meyer), until he died by suicide in 1963.

He was 30 when he was first elected to Florida’s state House in 1966. He’d serve in Florida’s legislature – first in the state House, then in the state Senate – for a total of 12 years.

In 1978, he launched a long-shot bid to be the next governor of Florida and gained attention for his “workdays,” which consisted of him taking on a different job for a full day alongside his constituents.

He was elected governor of the Sunshine State that year, becoming the first South Florida politician to win the governor’s mansion, and was reelected in 1982. As governor, he prioritized education and the environment, including launching the “Save Our Everglades” program. In his first term, he mobilized the National Guard to respond to the deadly 1980 Miami riots following the acquittal of four White police officers who had beaten Arthur McDuffie, a Black man, to death.

Graham continued his “workdays” as governor, and by the time he retired from Congress he had worked hundreds of different jobs, from construction worker to bellhop, from barber to lobster fisherman to pooper scooper, while also performing as Santa Claus, a radio talk-show host and ring announcer.

He told The Associated Press in 2004 that the workdays were an “important part of my development as a public official, my learning at a very human level what the people of Florida expect, what they want, what their aspirations are and then trying to interpret that and make it policy that will improve their lives.”

After his failed run for president and retirement from political office in 2004, Graham remained involved.

He was asked by congressional leaders to chair the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which issued a report in 2008 that said it was likely that a weapon of mass destruction attack would occur somewhere in the world by 2013 if nothing were done to enhance security.

Then-President Barack Obama tapped Graham in 2010 to co-lead a national commission charged with examining how the BP oil spill that year happened and how to prevent future oil spills.

In 2006, Graham established a nonpartisan civic engagement center at the University of Florida, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

He is survived by his wife, Adele, their four daughters, including former US Rep. Gwendolyn Graham, and their 10 grandchildren.

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