Longtime Kentucky Congressman Gene Snyder, 79

From News Services and Staff Reports
Monday, February 19, 2007

Gene Snyder, 79, a Kentucky Republican who served 11 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives until retiring in 1987, died Feb. 16 at his home in Naples, Fla., where he had retired. No cause of death was reported, but he had undergone back and heart surgery in recent years.

Mr. Snyder was first elected in 1962 from Kentucky's 3rd District, covering Louisville, but lost a reelection bid. He ran again in 1966 for the 4th District seat and held it for the next two decades.

He served on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee as well as the Public Works and Transportation Committee.

He was best known in Washington for blocking nonstop flights of more than 1,000 miles from Reagan National Airport, on the grounds that more nonstop flights to major cities would mean fewer flights to Kentucky airports.

Early in his political career, Mr. Snyder was known for pugnacious conservatism. He extolled the virtues of individual initiative over what he called "creeping socialism," the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

He denounced Washington as "the Puzzle Palace on the Potomac" and dismissed one Democratic opponent as a "twerp . . . a marshmallow" and likened another to Porky Pig. As he gained seniority, he became less strident.

He was succeeded in his House seat by Jim Bunning (R), now a U.S. senator. He mentored most of Kentucky's current congressional lawmakers, including Bunning and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R).

Despite the urging of his party, Mr. Snyder decided not to run for a 12th term in 1986. He endorsed Bunning, who won the seat in 1986 and went on to hold the seat for 12 years before moving on to the Senate.

Mr. Snyder described himself as a poor boy from "the other side of the tracks in a cold-water flat" in Louisville's West End.

At the time of his retirement from the House, he was the richest member of Kentucky's congressional delegation, with assets of $1.6 million, according to a financial disclosure form.

He earned part of his fortune as a broker of coal and real estate to electric power companies.

Marion Gene Snyder was born in Louisville on Jan. 26, 1928. He attended the University of Louisville and earned his law degree from the Jefferson School of Law, now part of the University of Louisville law school.

He began his political career in 1954, as the Jeffersontown, Ky., city attorney, a post he held for four years.

An expressway and the federal courthouse in Louisville are named for the congressman.

His marriage to Mary Louise Hodges Snyder ended in divorce.

Survivors include his second wife, Patricia Snyder; a son from his first marriage; and two stepchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company