Ex-Rep. Bob Kastenmeier dies at 91

Robert Kastenmeier in 1977.
Robert Kastenmeier in 1977.

MADISON, Wisconsin -- Former U.S. Rep. Bob Kastenmeier, an early and staunch opponent of the Vietnam War who served 32 years in Congress, has died. The Wisconsin Democrat was 91.

Kastenmeier, a World War II veteran who represented the liberal Madison area starting in 1959, had been suffering from heart problems and died at his home Friday in Arlington, Virginia, according to his wife, Dorothy. She said her husband's main interest had always been world peace, "and I think the people will remember him for that."

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Kastenmeier's incessant pursuit of civil rights, nuclear disarmament and openness in government became a symbol of Madison's political climate during the 1960s and 1970s. He was an early critic of the Vietnam War, and even brought a House subcommittee to Madison to hold hearings on how the war was affecting his constituents.

"He was one of very few in Congress who took a firm stand initially," said state Sen. Fred Risser, 87, a longtime friend who campaigned with the congressman. "He underwent considerable criticism for it from a number of people."

Kastenmeier maintained his anti-war stance after he left office. He opposed the U.S. invading Iraq, saying that had President George W. Bush been president during the Cold War, his policies would have led to a nuclear holocaust.

"Let me be very clear: I do not support the war against Iraq," he said at the time. "I am appalled by President Bush's obsession with it."

A native of Beaver Dam native, a city in central Wisconsin, Kastenmeier served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, and was a veteran of World War II. He later earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1952, and was a specialist in copyright legislation. He began his congressional career later that decade, but lost his seat during the 1990 election to Republican Scott Klug.

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Kastenmeier favored the 1974 impeachment of President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. He even persuaded the House Judiciary Committee, of which he was a ranking member, to vote on each article separately so each charge would be openly discussed, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who was elected in Kastenmeier's old district eight years after he left office, called him a "strong voice for Wisconsin's proud, progressive values and traditions." Baldwin was elected to the Senate in 2012.

"His public service is an inspiration to me today and his optimistic spirit will live on in me and other elected officials who were touched by his life's work," Baldwin said in a statement.