Ashcroft’s battle to keep his Senate seat garnered national attention after Carnahan died in an October airplane crash. Carnahan’s name remained on the ballot, and he won. His widow, Jean Carnahan, was named to fill the seat.
In a statement today, President-elect Bush hailed Ashcroft as “a man of deep convictions and strong principles.”
“John Ashcroft will perform his duties guided by principle, not by politics,” Bush said.
Raised in the small city of Springfield, Ashcroft is the son and grandson of Assemblies of God ministers. His father was also a university president, familiarizing the young Ashcroft with a life in the public sphere. Ashcroft graduated from Yale and the University of Chicago Law School, where he met his wife. After graduating from law school, Ashcroft and his wife practiced law and co-authored two college textbooks. During this time they also raised their three children.
In 1972, at the age of 30, Ashcroft ran for Congress and lost a close Republican primary. He was appointed state auditor in 1973 and was elected attorney general in 1976 and 1980. In 1984, he successfully ran for governor and was reelected in1988.
Ashcroft’s conservative reputation was cemented during this period. During his tenure, held tax rates down, established enterprise zones to encourage job growth, and built new prisons. By the time he left office, Missouri’s tax revenues were among the lowest in the nation. In spite of his conservative record, he has been a strong voice for education spending. In 1991, he backed an effort to raise $385 million in taxes for education which was later rejected by voters.
Limited to two terms as governor, Ashcroft returned to his law practice in 1992. When Sen. John Danforth unexpectedly retired in 1994, Ashcroft was the Republican’s obvious choice for the seat. Helped by a close Democratic primary and a conservative record that played well with voters, Ashcroft won with 60 percent of the vote.
As a member of the Senate, Ashcroft quickly established himself as a vocal conservative. A strong proponent of term-limits, he sponsored a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision overturning term limits. Ashcroft is also known for his attempts to reform the welfare system. His Charitable Choice proposal, which provides block grants specifically allowing states to use charities or faith-based organizations to provide services, was included in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Ashcroft tends to side with business interests, supporting a bill that unions opposed which would allow employers to compensate for overtime with compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay.