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Former Rep. Wes Cooley, Lightning Rod From Oregon, Dead at 82

Former Rep. Wes Cooley, R-Ore., who served one term in Congress, died Wednesday at the age of 82.  

KTVZ, a Bend, Ore., television station reported that Cooley’s wife, Rosemary, sent an email to friends notifying them Cooley had died at St. Charles Medical Center-Bend.  

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who managed Cooley’s 1994 campaign and currently represents Cooley’s former district, released the following statement Friday: “My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Wes Cooley during this difficult time of loss. Despite his various legal issues over the last 20 years, I know he cared deeply about the rural West and the country.” Walden is referring to the scandals that plagued the Oregon Republican, which helped lead to his demise in Congress. Cooley was elected to Congress in 1994 after serving in the Oregon Senate. But he dropped out of his 1996 re-election bid amid allegations he falsely claimed that he served in the Korean War.  

In 1997, he was convicted of lying on an official document about his service. But Cooley would face other legal troubles in the coming years. According to The Oregonian , he was indicted for money laundering and tax evasion in 2009, and was sentenced to one year in prison in 2012 for investment fraud. He was reportedly released from prison in September 2013.  

While in Congress, Cooley garnered negative media attention for some of his outbursts. He famously gave Sierra Club demonstrators the middle finger at the Capitol, which was captured by a photographer. In 1996, Cooley also mistakenly took an April Fools’ Roll Call article seriously, referring to it at a meeting. When a Portland Oregonian reporter asked to speak to him about the mix-up in the Speaker’s Lobby, Cooley stormed out and angrily confronted her. A 1996 Roll Call article detailed the incident, noting Cooley shouted, “The only thing that is saving you from getting your nose busted is that you’re a lady.” Cooley’s office issued an apology, saying he was frustrated by “relentless assaults on my character, my record of military service, and frankly, on my duties as a congressman.”  

The article noted, “Cooley’s reputation for unorthodox behavior began as soon as he arrived on Capitol Hill.” Cooley’s decision not to run for re-election also made Roll Call’s front page. In a statement announcing his decision, Cooley acknowledged that his embattled reputation was giving Democrats an advantage in the race. Cooley said, “The chance that a liberal politician could win the 2nd District is a risk that I’m not willing to take.”  

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