Induction Category & YearGeneral 2008
Home TownAberdeen, SD
Aberdeen, SD

   Thomas Daschle
Champion of Excellence

 Thomas Andrew Daschle was the oldest of four sons born to a working-class Catholic family in Aberdeen, SD. Through the encouragement of his parents, Sebastian “Dash” and Betty Daschle, he became the first in his family to attend college.

Tom earned his degree in political science from South Dakota State University in 1969. He was later honored as a Distinguished Alumni by his alma mater. After college, he served in the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command as an intelligence officer.

Tom later served for five years as an aide to then-U.S. Senator James Abourezk. In 1978, he ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat, winning by a 110-vote margin out of nearly 130,000 casts. He was an early champion of renewable fuels, promoting the product when it was known as “gasohol.” He remained the ethanol industry’s most ardent supporter through his years in public office.

Inspired by his father’s service in World War II and his service during the Vietnam era, Tom fought for veterans during his time in Congress. He authored and passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991 that extended benefits to military veterans suffering from exposure to the defoliant used prominently throughout the Vietnam conflict.

Tom was later instrumental in the passage of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 1994 that helped address the needs of Gulf War veterans suffering from undiagnosed war-related maladies.

His service in Congress was also defined by his long-standing commitment to constituent service. Tom understood the need to help South Dakotans with every day problems and became one of the first members of Congress to create a toll-free number to make his Washington, DC office more accessible to the people of South Dakota.

Throughout his time in public office, Tom made a practice of visiting each of the state’s 66 counties every year. His “unscheduled driving,” in which he drove around without staff and without a schedule, became a Daschle trademark. He would travel around the state during the congressional recess to listen to the concerns of his constituents.

Tom was re-elected to three more terms in U.S. House of Representatives (1980, 1982 and 1984). In 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was re-elected by wide margins in 1992 and 1998.

Along with his wife, Linda Hall Daschle, Tom has worked to educate the public about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the leading known cause of mental retardation. In recognition of their work on the issue, the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome named its Hall of Fame after the Daschles.

In 1994, his colleagues elected Tom as their Democratic Leader. Only Lyndon Johnson served fewer years in the Senate before being elected to the position. Tom is one of the longest serving Senate Democratic Leaders in history and the only one to serve twice as both Majority and Minority Leader. He served as Senate Democratic Leader until leaving office in 2005.

Tom was the Majority Leader at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks. One month later, his Senate office in Washington, DC was the victim of an anthrax attack that left 20 staff members exposed.

Throughout his time in office, Tom secured tens of millions of dollars to build infrastructure to deliver clean water to residents in South Dakota. He was a key figure in the success of the WEB Water System and the authorization of the Lewis & Clark Rural Water System that will serve eastern South Dakota, southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa.

Working with then-Governor Bill Janklow, Tom helped pass the largest transportation-funding bill in state history. The funding enabled the state to move ahead with significant highway upgrades to serve the cities of Aberdeen, Huron, and Pierre.

His influence in Congress was widely credited for keeping Ellsworth Air Force Base off the base closure list in the mid-1990s. At the same time, Ellsworth and the Air National Guard in Sioux Falls benefited from his efforts to provide more funding for new buildings.

Tom has also been a champion for Native Americans, working for improvements in Indian Health Service and economic opportunities on the reservations. In 2003, Tom and Governor Mike Rounds co-hosted the “Gathering and Healing of Nations,” a daylong event that drew hundreds of people to discuss race relations and other issues of concern. Former First Lady Linda Mickelson, whose husband, Governor George Mickelson, was widely known for promoting reconciliation in the state, was invited to provide opening remarks at the gathering.

Tom is currently a Special Policy Advisor at Alston & Bird, LLP, in Washington, DC. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a visiting professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University.

In 2007, Tom joined with former Majority Leaders George Mitchell, Bob Dole and Howard Baker to create the Bipartisan Policy Center, an organization dedicated to finding common ground on some of the pressing public policy challenges of our time. He is also Co-Chair of the ONE Vote ’08 Campaign, along with former Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, to address health and poverty in the developing world in a more aggressive and successful way. He serves as a member of the Genocide Prevention Task Force formed by the United States Institute of Peace, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Museum, to generate recommendations to enhance the U.S. government’s capacity to respond to emerging threats of genocide and mass atrocities.

Tom serves on the Advisory Boards of Intermedia Partners and Cell Block Telecommunications, as well as on the BP America Inc. External Advisory Council. He also serves on the boards of CB Richard Ellis, Mascoma Corporation, Prime BioSolutions, The Freedom Forum, the Mayo Clinic, and the Center for American Progress, the LBJ Foundation the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Laborers’ Charitable Foundation. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign Advisory Council and the Continuity of Government Commission.

Tom has published articles in numerous newspapers and periodicals and is the author of the books, Critical: What We Can Do About the Healthcare Crisis and Like No Other Time. He holds a number of honorary doctorate degrees.

Tom is married to Linda Hall Daschle and has three children and four grandchildren.

Home Town (Aberdeen, SD)
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