Phil Crane, former Illinois congressman, dies at 84

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The chief of staff for Sen. Mark Kirk says longtime Illinois U.S. Rep. Phil Crane has died of lung cancer in Virginia. He was of 84. (WLS)

Former Illinois Congressman Phil Crane passed away this weekend at his daughter's home in Maryland.

Crane, who represented Chicago's far northwest suburbs for 35 years, was the longest-serving House Republican when he was defeated in 2004 by Democrat and then-political newcomer Melissa Bean.

He joined the House in 1969, winning the seat held by Donald Rumsfeld, who left to join the Nixon administration.

On Sunday, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and other Republicans praised Crane's conservative principles, saying he was a champion of the right, a true Reagan Republican whose brand of conservatism changed politics forever.

"I think he is one of the original architects of Republican conservatism in this century," Sen. Kirk said.

Crane was fiercely anti-tax and passionately pro-free trade.

"At the time, the conservative movement, he had not gotten the respect," said ABC7 Eyewitness News political analyst Laura Washington said. "They were considered fringe players, and I think he and Ronald Reagan and others helped make conservatism respectable."

After joining the House in 1969, he ran for president in 1980, but dropped out after Reagan entered the primary. He would become the most senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

"I have consistently, in all the years I've served in Congress, put tax cuts first and foremost," Crane said in 2004. "I have fought for them faithfully. I have never voted for a tax increase."

He became a Washington fixture, but that familiarity was perhaps his political undoing. Opponents charged that he had forgotten his constituents back home.

At the time of his defeat, Crane was the longest-serving house Republican, his influence spanning a generation.

"With the new Republican majority coming into the Senate, Phil's legacy definitely lives with us," Kirk said.

Crane had been battling lung cancer and heart problems and reportedly died of respiratory failure. He turned 84 last week.

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