Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect party affiliation for former U.S. senator John Culver. He is a Democrat. This version has been corrected.

Progressive Republican Was a Kansas Senator

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 19, 2009

James B. Pearson, 88, a progressive Republican who represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate for almost 17 years, died Jan. 13 at his home in Gloucester, Mass. A cause of death wasn't immediately available, although Sen. Pearson had been on kidney dialysis for the past four years, said his wife, Margaret Pearson.

Sen. Pearson championed deregulating natural gas, expanding international trade and reforming campaign finance, among other issues that often found him voting with his Democratic colleagues. With then-Sen. Walter F. Mondale (D-Minn.), he sponsored legislation that reduced the number of votes required to end a filibuster from 67 to 60. He also broke with the Nixon administration on efforts to end the Vietnam War. His closest Senate colleagues were Republicans Sens. Charles "Mac" Mathias (Md.) and Edward Brooke (Mass.) and Democrat John Culver (Iowa).

David Seaton, the senator's former press secretary and now publisher of the Winfield Daily Courier, said Sen. Pearson's toughest races were always in the Republican primaries: "For a good long time, he was not considered Republican enough by the traditional Republican party people."

James Blackwood Pearson was born in Nashville but moved with his family as a child to the Charlottesville area, where his father was a Methodist preacher. He spent two years as an undergraduate at Duke University before becoming a Navy transport pilot during World War II. From 1943 to 1946, he was stationed at Olathe Naval Air Station in Kansas. He returned to Kansas after receiving his law degree in 1950 from the University of Virginia.

He married a Kansas woman after the war and practiced law in Johnson County, Kan., during the 1950s. He also served as city attorney for several Kansas towns, as assistant county attorney and as a county probate judge.

After serving a single term in the Kansas Senate, starting in 1956, he returned to his private law practice. He also served as the Republican state chairman.

In January 1962, Republican Sen. Andrew Schoeppel died in office, and Kansas Gov. John Anderson Jr. appointed Sen. Pearson to fill the vacancy. He won the GOP primary that year with 62 percent of the vote over former governor Ed Arn, then won the general election with 56 percent. He won a full six-year term in 1966 and another in 1972.

As a senator, he was a member of the Appropriations and Commerce committees and served on the Foreign Relations Committee in the 1970s as the United States sought to end the Vietnam War.

Seaton noted that Kansas Republicans who supported Sen. Pearson "really did support most of the Great Society and turned against the Vietnam War fairly early." The senator became an opponent after the 1970 bombing of Cambodia.

Sen. Pearson decided not to seek reelection in 1978 and was succeeded by Nancy Kassebaum Baker. He practiced law in the Washington office of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Lieby and MacRae and served on the board of the Honolulu-based East-West Institute. He spent the last few years of his life in Gloucester and also had a farm in Baldwin City, Kan.

His marriage to Martha Mitchell Pearson ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 28 years, of Gloucester and Baldwin City; and four children from the first marriage.

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