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Richard Lugar remembered as a ‘proud Hoosier’ and ‘American statesman’

Richard Lugar

Dozens of Indianapolis political and civic leaders Monday joined a tribute for former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar outside the building where he served as the city’s mayor before winning the first of his six Senate terms.

Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett called the Republican Lugar an “American statesman” during the ceremony a day after he died at age 87.

Hogsett and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb placed a memorial wreath beside the sign for the Richard G. Lugar Plaza next to the City-County Building. Flags nearby were at half-staff as directed by Holcomb to honor Lugar until the day of his funeral, which hasn’t yet been announced. Lugar was a Republican foreign policy expert who helped spur the dismantling of thousands of former Soviet nuclear weapons. He served in the Senate from 1977 until 2013.

Richard Lugar worked to alert Americans about the threat of terrorism years before “weapons of mass destruction” became a common phrase following the Sept. 11 attacks. He helped start a program that destroyed thousands of former Soviet nuclear and chemical weapons after the Cold War ended, then warned during a short-lived 1996 run for president about the danger of such devices falling into the hands of terrorists.

“Every stockpile represents a theft opportunity for terrorists and a temptation for security personnel who might seek to profit by selling weapons on the black market,” Lugar said in 2005. “We do not want the question posed the day after an attack on an American military base.”

President Donald Trump offered his condolences following Lugar’s death, saying in a statement that he and first lady Melania Trump extended their “deepest condolences to the citizens of Indiana and the entire Lugar family following the loss of a great American and public servant.” Trump called Lugar “a proud Hoosier and patriot (who) leaves behind a long record of legislative accomplishments and a tremendous legacy of service.”

The soft-spoken and thoughtful former Rhodes Scholar was a leading Republican voice on foreign policy matters during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, but whose reputation of working with Democrats ultimately cost him the office in 2012. He died Sunday at a hospital in Virginia, where he was being treated for a rare neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demylinating polyneuropathy, or CIPD.

Lugar’s long popularity in Indiana gave him the freedom to concentrate largely on foreign policy and national security matters — a focus highlighted by his collaboration with Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn on a program under which the United States paid to dismantle and secure thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles in the former Soviet states after the Cold War ended.

Lugar served for decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, twice as chairman, where he helped steer arms reduction pacts for the presidential administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, supported an expansion of NATO and favored aid to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels.

“Lugar was a leader not only in the Senate but also on the world stage, where he worked tirelessly to bring pressure to end apartheid in South Africa and enforce treaties that destroyed Soviet weapons of mass destruction,” Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana, said in a statement.

Another former governor, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, who spent more than a decade as chief of staff to Lugar, said, “The world is safer from nuclear danger because of him.”

Lugar tried to translate his foreign policy expertise into a 1996 presidential run. But his campaign for the GOP nomination went badly from the start. His kickoff rally began just hours after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, and he struggled to build name recognition and support.

Lugar’s time as a Washington foreign policy expert was the highlight of a political career that began with his election to the Indianapolis school board in the early 1960s. City GOP leaders encouraged him to run for mayor in 1967. He spent eight years at the city’s helm.

He first ran for Senate in 1974, narrowly losing to Sen. Birch Bayh in a Democratic landslide after the Watergate scandal. He ran again two years later and easily unseated three-term Democratic Sen. Vance Hartke, launching a 36-year Capitol Hill career that made him Indiana’s longest-serving senator.

Born April 4, 1932, in Indianapolis, Lugar graduated at the top of his classes at both Indianapolis Shortridge High School and at Denison University in Ohio. At Denison, he met his future wife, Charlene. They married in 1956 and had four sons.

In a statement, the Allen County Commissioners noted that “During his 36 years in the United States Senate, Richard Lugar served the people of Allen County and the state of Indiana with honor and distinction. Senator Lugar believed in the value of public service, putting progress ahead of partisanship, and was always willing to work with others to serve the needs of the public. He represented honesty and a commitment to making government work efficiently and effectively for all citizens. On behalf of the citizens of Allen County, we express our deepest sympathies to his wife, Char, and the rest of the Lugar family.”

Other local officials shared similar thoughts. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, called Lugar a “giant in the hearts and minds of Hoosiers and all who served with him during his career in public service and record-setting tenure in the Senate. His selfless service and tireless advocacy on behalf of the state and nation we both love inspired many to follow his footsteps into public service . . . The world is a better place because of Sen. Lugar.”

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