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Clair Engle: A Featured Biography


Photo: Clair Engle

Clair Engle represented California in the U.S. Congress as a representative from 1943 to 1959, and then as a senator from 1959 until his death in 1964. Over the course of his career, Engle’s political ideology evolved from social and fiscal conservative to liberal, earning him a 100 percent approval rating from Americans for Democratic Action. Engle fought tirelessly to expand California’s irrigation system and to procure federal money for other state projects. His competitive nature made him a rising star in the Democratic Party, where he earned the nickname “Congressman Fireball.” In 1960 he was among the candidates considered as a running mate to presidential nominee John F. Kennedy. Tragically, brain surgeries in 1963 and 1964 to combat cancer left him paralyzed on his right side and limited his ability to speak. Despite this, Engle delivered two dramatic votes during the debates over the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the first to invoke cloture and end debate on the bill, and the second in support of the bill itself. He died six weeks later.