The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

John Porter, Illinois congressman for 10 terms, dies at 87

He was a Republican who helped increase government funding for biomedical research

Republican John Porter, pictured above in 1995, represented Illinois for 10 terms in Congress. (Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post)
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John Porter, who represented the northern Chicago suburbs for two decades in Congress and helped increase funding for biomedical research, died June 3 at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va. He was 87 and a resident of Alexandria. The cause was pneumonia, said his stepdaughter Robyn Porter.

Mr. Porter, a Republican who chaired the health and human services panel of the House Appropriations Committee, served in Congress from 1980 to 2001. A fiscal conservative who held moderate social views, he backed abortion rights and gun control, positions that are almost unheard of in the Republican Party today.

Among other things, he helped lead the successful effort that created the 1994 assault weapons ban, which has since expired. He also was a supporter of international human rights and helped increase funding for scientific and biomedical research.

“The whole rough and tumble of classless politics was anathema to his character,” Mark Kirk, who succeeded Mr. Porter in the House before he was elected to the Senate in 2010, told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. “The district wanted an independent leader, and he was that independent leader.”

Kirk, who started as an intern in Mr. Porter’s office becoming its chief of staff, said Mr. Porter’s main legacy was “in doubling funding for the National Institutes of Health and funding the unlocking of the human genome.”

John Edward Porter was born in Evanston, Ill., on June 1, 1935. His father was a judge, and his mother was a homemaker. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1957 and the University of Michigan law school in 1961. He served in the Army Reserve, was in private legal practice in Evanston and served in the Illinois House from 1973 to 1979.

He ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Abner Mikva (D) in 1978, but two years later won a special election after Mikva resigned to become a federal appeals court judge.

Mr. Porter did not seek reelection in 2000 and subsequently became a partner in the international law firm of Hogan Lovells. He also helped to create the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a voluntary group that worked to identify, track and end human rights violations all over the world.

“We have probably offended every single government on earth,” he said, according to the Daily Herald. “But they deserved to be offended.”

Eight years ago, the National Institutes of Health dedicated the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center in Bethesda, Md.

His marriages to Margo Clark and Kathryn Cameron ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 15 years, Amy McGuire Porter of Alexandria, three children from his first marriage, four stepchildren and 14 grandchildren.