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Former Governor and Senator Harold Hughes Dead at 74

October 24, 1996

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Harold Hughes, a former truck driver who overcame alcoholism to become a three-term governor and a U.S. senator, has died at 74.

``He died in his sleep overnight″ in Glendale, Ariz., state Democratic Party spokesman Peter Wilmert said today. He had not been ill, Wilmert said.

Hughes, a liberal Democrat who wrote the law that established the National Institutes of Health, sent shock waves through Iowa politics in 1973 when he announced he was retiring after one term in the Senate to devote himself to religious work and helping those suffering from alcoholism.

Hughes was a major figure in Iowa politics, serving three terms as governor _ the last Democrat to be elected to that office _ before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1968. After retiring from politics, he opened the Harold Hughes Center for alcoholism treatment in West Des Moines.

``Harold Hughes was a truck driver who had been an alcoholic who overcame that and went on to become governor of Iowa,″ Gov. Terry Branstad said. ``He was a very strong and forceful leader. ... He really modernized state government.″

Branstad said he would order flags at state buildings flown at half staff.

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said Hughes was a guiding light during the early years of Harkin’s own career.

``He was a very compassionate man,″ Harkin said. ``He just had a grasp of the common person. ... He always stuck up for people who started from the bottom.″

Hughes, who had retired to Arizona several years ago, was born Feb. 10, 1922, near Ida Grove and served as a combat infantryman in North Africa during World War II. He returned home to become a truck drive and begin his struggle with alcoholism.

He overcame the disease and was elected in 1958 to the Iowa Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities.

In 1960, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor. Two years later, he was able to oust Republican Gov. Norman Erbe in a campaign where he made legalizing liquor by the drink a central issue. Hughes favored legalization.

In 1968, after three terms as governor, Hughes won a Senate seat. During that term, he flirted briefly with the notion of running for president, finally becoming Sen. Edmund Muskie’s campaign manager in the Maine senator’s run for the White House.

Hughes, a booming orator, attracted national attention when he nominated Eugene McCarthy for president at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

During his Senate term, Hughes wrote the original law setting up the National Institutes of Health. His work centered mainly on two issues: the problems of alcohol and drug abuse and the war in Vietnam. He started out as a hawk on Vietnam and gradually evolved into a dove in 1967.

His last flirtation with politics came in 1981 when he considered, but eventually decided against, running again for governor.

Hughes found himself in the news earlier this year when he was ordered to pay $14,850 in back child support to his former wife, Eva Hughes, whom he married in 1941. The couple had three daughters, two of whom survive.

The couple was divorced in 1987, and Hughes married his former secretary, Julie Holm.

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