August 4, 2003 by

Vance Hartke


Categories: Politicians

Rupert Vance Hartke, a three-term Indiana senator, died on July 27 of heart failure. He was 84.

Hartke served in the Coast Guard and as a Navy officer during World War II. When his military service ended, he earned a law degree from Indiana University, set up his own law practice and became the mayor of Evansville, Ind. He was best known for integrating the town’s swimming pools during his two-year tenure.

Hartke was elected to the Senate in 1958 as a hard-working, liberal Democrat with good connections to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Those connections landed him on the Finance and Commerce committees. During his first term, Hartke lobbied for programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Hartke helped create student loan programs and new veterans benefits during his second term. He ordered automakers to equip cars with seat belts and helped to establish Amtrak. In 1970, after a tight race and a ballot recount, Hartke won a third term. He briefly considered a run for the presidency, but couldn’t secure the Democratic nomination.

His opposition to the Vietnam War led to the publication of two books — “The American Crisis in Vietnam” and “You and Your Senator” — and a fallout with President Johnson and President Richard Nixon. It also cost him his Senate seat in 1976.

Hartke then set up a law practice in Falls Church, Va. In 1994, he was indicted by a grand jury in Indiana for polling violations. As part of a plea agreement, Hartke received a six-month suspended sentence.

9 Responses to Vance Hartke

  1. Karen Anderson

    I grew up in the D.C. suburbs and went through school with Vance Hartke’s son, Paul. When we were in fourth grade, Hartke was one of the Democrats trying to push through the Civil Rights Act legislation. The Republicans were staging a filibuster to stall it. Our fourth grade teacher, spotting a teachable moment, asked Paul to tell the class was a filibuster was. He said it was “a big goat.”
    When we were in high school, Paul played basketball on the varsity team. He wasn’t exactly the star of the team, but he was a real scrapper. Senator Hartke somehow managed to get to all the games, sitting in the front row, and cheering his son on like crazy. What a great guy–and a great old-time liberal, Johnson-era Democrat!

  2. Ralph Lindop

    My Father and Grandfather (Ralph K. Lindop) knew Senator Hartke very well. I was young, but remember stories of my Grandfather attempting a run for the Presidency with the Senator. I have just heard of his death, very late, but offer my condolences to his family and friends. I wish I had come to know him. Our great nation is less for his passing, but he served it well.

  3. Hanna Hartke

    U.S. Senator Vance Hartke was my grandfather. I grew up living with him, and know he was a great man. He lived a fulfilling life where the love between family and friends was most important to him. He knew more information on politics than I ever could fathom. I find it interesting how fantastic it is to see John Kerry running for President knowing that my grandfather talked to Kerry when he was much younger, and before my grandfather died told Kerry that he would make a great President. He was the best person I have ever known.

  4. Bruce A. Fleck

    I also knew Vance, but not that I can remember much about him. My mother was his first cousin. She always talked about him when we were growing up. I took pride that I had a cousin that was as important as a State Senator back then and also was the Mayor of Evansville Indiana. Vance was the last one to pass away among his generation of my Mom’s family. My mother who Was Evelyn E. Hartke Fleck died in 2002 and her last surviving brother then passed in Feb of 2003. My respects to Martha and his family. If anyone has any questions they may feel free to email me.
    Bruce A. Fleck

  5. tina mull

    i have a picture of vance holding me when i was about 4. my parents had gone to a speech at a park he was at and my mother said he made sure to come over to me pick me up and give me a nickel. she said i kept that nickel clinched in my had til the next day. i have that picture in my album and always wondered who he was.

  6. Grant Schott

    In the summer of ’05, my “Gramma” Kay Taylor died at 89 in Albany, OR. SHe was the most active Democrat I have ever known, and she lived in Indiana in the 1960s before moving to Oregon. She was a great fan and supporter of Seantors Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke. It’s not easy being liberal in a conservative state, but both of those Senators were, and the country is better because of it.

  7. Angie Hartke Francart

    He was my grandfather, my mentor, my inspiration and my pride. I know he was one of the reason why I continue to make this world a better place. He never gave up and worked until the very day he died on his conviction of the American dream. Like Hanna I was raised by him and his love of family and friends is more then anyone could ever know. I miss him daily and only wish he could be here still today to see what has happened to our once great country.

  8. Cam Birge

    Senator Hartke was an inspiration. His energy and generosity existed until his final days. Behind every great man is a great woman, and Martha is certainly that. The world is a better place as a result of their actions over the years.
    My wife and I thank both Vance and Martha for the tremendous hospitality they showed us in Washington a few years back. It was an experience we’ll never forget.

  9. Jessica

    I remember seeing your grandfather on tv announcing his candidacy with the great Senator Hartke. I was hoping them the best, but whatever became of that pair?

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