J. James Exon

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J. James Exon
Jim exon.jpg
United States Senator
from Nebraska
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Carl T. Curtis
Succeeded by Chuck Hagel
33rd Governor of Nebraska
In office
January 7, 1971 – January 4, 1979
Lieutenant Frank Marsh
Gerald T. Whelan
Preceded by Norbert T. Tiemann
Succeeded by Charles Thone
Personal details
Born John James Exon
(1921-08-09)August 9, 1921
Geddes, South Dakota
Died June 10, 2005(2005-06-10) (aged 83)
Lincoln, Nebraska
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Patricia Exon
Alma mater University of Nebraska Omaha
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Unit Signal Corps
Battles/wars World War II

John James "Jim" Exon (August 9, 1921 – June 10, 2005) was an American Democratic politician. He served as the 33rd Governor of Nebraska from 1971 to 1979, and as a U.S. Senator from Nebraska from 1979 to 1997. Exon was a Nebraska Democrat who never lost an election, and the only Democrat to hold Nebraska's Class 2 U.S. Senate seat. He was elected and re-elected governor in 1970 and 1974, elected to the Senate in 1978, and re-elected in 1984 and 1990. He is the only Nebraskan besides George Norris, the architect of Nebraska's unicameral legislature, to win five consecutive statewide elections.

Early career

Exon was born in Geddes, South Dakota, in 1921 and attended the University of Omaha between 1939 and 1941. During World War II, Exon served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

After the war, he worked as the branch manager of a financial services institution. He founded Exon Office Supplies in Lincoln in 1953 and served as its president until 1971. In 1972, when Esso changed its name to Exxon, it asked Gov. Exon for his permission. He received no financial remuneration from the company.

He started his political career as a precinct worker for the Democrats. In 1964, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Nebraska and served as a delegate for that state in every convention between 1972 and 2004. He served as a member of the Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee between 1964 and 1968 and was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1968 to 1970. Exon was Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party in 1970 when he decided to run for Governor.

Governor of Nebraska 1971–1979

Exon's first bid for public office was his successful campaign for Governor of Nebraska, defeating incumbent Republican Norbert Tiemann. The term of the Governor had been extended to four years beginning with Tiemann's win in 1966. Exon was re-elected in a landslide in 1974 and became the first Nebraska Governor to serve eight years in that position.

His repeated vetoes of the legislature's spending programs earned Exon the reputation as a fiscal conservative. He vetoed 141 bills in his final seven years as Governor or an average of 20 a year. Due to his ability to control expenditures and his reluctance to raise taxes, Exon won the support of many Nebraskans who normally voted Republican.

Senator from Nebraska 1979–1997

1979, Congressional Pictorial Directory
1995, Congressional Pictorial Directory

Exon's popularity as Governor carried over to his 1978 campaign for the U.S. Senate, and he was elected with 68 percent of the vote. He had a reputation as a moderate Democrat, often working with Republicans on fiscal and military issues. While serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, Exon was a strong defender of the B-2 stealth bomber.

In 1984, Exon had the closest election in his political career due to the popularity of President Ronald Reagan, eventually winning re-election by 25,000 votes. He was re-elected again in 1990.

He helped sponsor the Exon-Florio Amendment, which prevented takeovers or mergers by foreign companies of U.S. companies, if said merger was found to be a threat to national security.

In 1988, Exon took 10 vacations paid for by lobbying groups.[1]

Exon helped to write and secure support for a spending reduction in the U.S. budget of $14 billion in 1994, which he stated was his proudest political achievement. His Communications Decency Act of 1996 was Congress's first effort to try to censor content on the Internet with the goal of preventing access or transmission of pornography on the internet. It was later overturned by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court as an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment.[2]

Final Years 1997–2005

After his retirement, Exon served on a Committee established by Congress and led by John M. Deutch on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. In the report, Exon warned of the dangers if such weapons fell into the hands of terrorists and recommended the formation of an agency with a similar role to the Department of Homeland Security.

He was treated for cancer in the last years of his life, although he claimed in 2003 that it wasn't "highly malignant". Exon died of natural causes in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 10, 2005. He was the first person to lie in state for public viewing in the rotunda of the State Capitol building.


Further reading

  • Duane Hutchinson, Exon: Biography of a Governor Foundation Books 1973 ISBN 0-934988-01-3

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Norbert T. Tiemann
Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
Charles Thone
United States Senate
Preceded by
Carl T. Curtis
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Nebraska
Served alongside: Edward Zorinsky, David K. Karnes, Bob Kerrey
Succeeded by
Chuck Hagel