Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, a long-time veteran of Congress who helped then-President Bill Clinton achieve his goal of ending "welfare as we know it," has died following a lengthy battle with lung cancer.
Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, a long-time veteran of Congress who helped then-President Bill Clinton achieve his goal of ending “welfare as we know it,” has died following a lengthy battle with lung cancer.
Shaw’s family said in a statement that he died Tuesday night at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. He was 74.
Shaw spent 26 years in Washington and was among the first in a line of Republicans who helped transform Florida from a state dominated by just one political party into the battleground state that it is today.
He held positions in the city of Fort Lauderdale, including mayor, before riding into office with President Ronald Reagan in 1980. He survived several spirited challenges to his South Florida seat only to finally lose his spot during a Democratic wave in 2006.
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“Clay cherished his time in the U.S. Congress representing the people of South Florida,” said his wife Emilie Shaw in a statement. “He was a devoted family man setting a fine example for our 15 grandchildren. They will always be proud of Clay’s love of country.”
One of Shaw’s standout moments was his role in sponsoring and helping shepherd in 1996 a contentious bill to reform the nation’s safety net known as welfare. The measure put in place time and work requirements on welfare beneficiaries and gave states a much greater say in running the program.
Shaw had worked on previous efforts to change the program but that legislation had stalled before Republicans won control of Congress in 1994. Clinton, however, twice vetoed welfare overhaul bills, prompting Shaw to complain at one point that the Democratic president had “caved in to the liberal wing of his party.”
Clinton, who was running for re-election at the time, finally signed a third overhaul into law in August 1996 despite criticism from some Democrats that the measure would hurt the nation’s poor.
Shaw, right before the bill was passed, said that the “the degree of success that we are going to have is going to be a victory for the American people, for the poor.”
“He spent a long career in Congress trying to accomplish, without partisanship or rancor, what was best for the people in his congressional district,” said former Republican U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who once interned for Shaw.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement that he was “impressed with Clay’s work on the causes he was most passionate about.”
Eric Eikenberg, who served as Shaw’s chief of staff for nearly four years, called Shaw a “true gentleman” and wonderful boss. He recalled that while serving as Shaw’s campaign manager in 2000 that he had failed to properly file some election paperwork which meant Shaw had to pay a fee in order to qualify for re-election.
Instead of yelling at him, Eikenberg recalled that he said: “It’s not going to be your last mistake.”
Eikenberg said Shaw “really took legislating to heart” and did not actively seek publicity.
“He was more interested in accomplishing legislative objectives than worrying about what cable television interview he was going to be on,” said Eikenberg.
During his lengthy career in Congress, Shaw also led an effort to eliminate Social Security earning penalties for working seniors and he also pushed through federal legislation to help restore the Everglades
Shaw survived close calls including nearly losing during 2000 election that saw George W. Bush win Florida – and the presidency – by 537 votes over Al Gore. Shaw, whose district included parts of south Florida that became the target of Gore’s push for a recount, had to endure his own recount before winning by less than 600 votes.
His political career was finally derailed in 2006 by Ron Klein who repeatedly criticized Shaw over Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly.
Shaw was born in Miami and earned degrees, including a law degree, from Stetson University while also earning a MBA from the University of Alabama. He was elected mayor of Fort Lauderdale in 1975.
He is survived by his wife Emilie, four children and 15 grandchildren. He will be buried in Cuba, Ala.
Brendan Farrington contributed to this story from Tallahassee.
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