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Former U.S. Representative, Presidential Candidate John B. Anderson Dies At 95

Rockford native John B. Anderson, who represented the 16th Illinois Congressional District for two decades and ran for president in 1980, died at his home on Sunday.

John B. Anderson, who represented northern Illinois for two decades in Congress and ran an independent campaign for President, died Sunday at his home in Washington.

His family announced the death in a statement.

Entering the U.S. House in 1961, he was an ultraconservative supporter of the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican Party and initially a staunch opponent of many of the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson.

Credit Library of Congress
Library of Congress
John B. Anderson, 1980.

His concern over civil rights caused him to change his views. He remained a fiscal conservative but joined with liberals on social issues.

Rockford Register Star political editor Chuck Sweeny said Anderson was known as an independent thinker, adding "I think he advanced a lot of causes that are kind of seen as out there because he thought they were good ideas we ought to think about." Those ideas included the elimination of the Electoral College and a 50 cent per gallon gas tax to support Social Security. 

A brutal primary campaign against fundamentalist Rockford pastor Don Lyon in 1978 convinced Anderson to broaden his political focus. He sought the Republican nomination for president in 1980 before mounting a serious third-party campaign. He finished with nearly seven percent of the vote.

A Rockford native, Anderson was an artillery sergeant in World War II. He earned law degrees from the University of Illinois and Harvard Law School, returning to Rockford to practice law. After a few years, he joined the Foreign Service and spent three years in Europe.

Credit Tom Wartowski
John B. Anderson in front of a campaign crowd in 1980.

Anderson served four years as Winnebago County State’s Attorney before running for Congress in 1960. After his first decade there, he changed his position to oppose the Vietnam War. He also was among the early leaders to call for President Richard Nixon to resign.

As a mark of the respect of his colleagues, Anderson was elected chairman of the House Republican Conference from 1969 to 1979.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Keke, five children and 11 grandchildren.