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WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Senator Bob Krueger, a human rights advocate and the last Democrat from Texas to serve in the U.S. Senate, died of congestive heart failure in his hometown of New Braunfels on April 30, according to reports local.
Krueger was among the last of Texas’ once-dominant conservative Democrats, with a political career that endured the party’s slow collapse across the state. He briefly achieved his highest aspiration in 1993, when Governor Ann Richards nominated him to serve in the US Senate.
He only served five months, losing a deadly special election to future Republican U.S. Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison, who would serve the remainder of that term and be re-elected three more times.
But in defeat, Krueger created a legacy that will outlive many Senate careers.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Krueger United States Ambassador to Burundi, an African country neighboring Rwanda, then in the midst of civil war.
In this role, Krueger faced physical threats and seized on the role of America’s primary advocate against human rights abuses in a destabilized East Africa. His eyewitness accounts of the horrors of the genocide are frequently cited within the human rights community, including on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
A generation ago, the 1976 edition of The Almanac of American Politics described the then-freshman congressman and Shakespearean scholar as “about as far removed from the stereotype of a Texas politician as one might ‘imagine”. Reporting on his death, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung newspaper declared him “this town’s favorite native son”.
A descendant of German immigrants who settled in the Texas Hill Country, Robert Charles Krueger was born on September 19, 1935. A New Braunfels public school graduate, he was one of the brightest minds of his generation. He received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University in 1957. He then obtained his master’s degree at Duke University, where he later served as university dean, and he obtained further master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. While at Oxford, he mastered the works of Shakespeare.
Eventually he returned to his hometown in 1973 to run a family business, Comal Hosiery Mills, one of New Braunfels’ major employers. In 1974, he ran as a Democrat in an open-seat race in the United States.
The 21st congressional district should have been the next logical choice for Republicans looking to make gains in Texas’ congressional delegation. At that time, it stretched from conservative northern San Antonio to its other population center, San Angelo, in western Texas. Two years earlier, President Richard Nixon defeated Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern there by 52 points.
With the help of future Texas General Land Office commissioner Garry Mauro and Texas publicist Roy Spence, Krueger ran well-funded and overlooked campaigns in both the Democratic primaries and the general election. He won both, earning a place in the 1974 class of Democratic members who became known as the “Watergate Babies.”
Although his tenure in the House was short – he served two terms – he gained a reputation for focusing his time on energy policy.
But he aspired to higher office through the Capitol. He ran unsuccessfully three times for the Senate, first challenging Republican U.S. Senator John Tower in 1978. Six years later, he lost to current U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett in the 1984 Democratic primary, in a race that Republican U.S. Senator Phil Gramm ultimately won.
In 1993, Krueger left his position as Texas Railroad Commissioner to reach the peak of his political career. After Democratic U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen left his seat to become U.S. Treasury Secretary, Governor Ann Richards nominated Krueger to eventually serve in the U.S. Senate.
This dream only lasted five months.
Upon his nomination, Krueger faced a fast approaching special election to serve the remainder of that term. The 1994 GOP wave was near, and Texas was turning on Democrats in the 1990s — especially those who were cerebral in nature. Krueger lost his bid to serve the remainder of Bentsen’s term when state treasurer Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison soundly defeated him in the June 1993 special election.
Clinton and Richards staffers were furious at the extent of his political defeat. Clinton appointed Krueger as ambassador to Burundi, an assignment they internally mocked, according to Brian McCall’s book, “The Power of the Texas Governor: Connally to Bush.”
But diplomacy in East Africa in 1994 was anything but a joke, and the continent was to become the focus of his professional portfolio.
That year, Krueger and his wife, Kathleen, and their two young daughters moved to Burundi, a country neighboring Rwanda. At the time, Rwanda was in the midst of a horrific civil war that brought genocide to the region. Refugees have spread to neighboring countries, including Burundi.
“Almost alone among Clinton’s diplomats, Krueger helped protect people from slaughter,” wrote Reid, Richards’ biographer. “When he challenged the Tutsi [tribal] marauders, two newspapers called for his assassination, and an ambush was quickly attempted, leaving Bob unharmed, but two people died and eight others were injured.
“One day his wife, Kathleen, confronted a dozen African soldiers who were planning to kill one of their domestic workers,” he added.
The Kruegers wrote a book about their experiences, “From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi,” which is listed on the Briscoe Center for American History website, among many other sources.
The Kruegers left that position in 1996 and he later served in the Clinton administration as US Ambassador to Botswana and as Special Representative of the US Secretary of State to the Southern African Development Community.
Krueger ended his teaching career and returned to Oxford as a scholar in 2000. During his academic career, he taught Shakespeare and history to students at leading higher education institutions in the state: Rice University, University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Texas State University.
Despite his accomplishments in academia, politics, and diplomacy, Krueger’s hometown newspaper most directly highlighted his personal decency as his legacy.
Krueger “was known to all by his informal name Bob and for an inclusive vision born out of a time when participants in the political arena prided themselves on their camaraderie and ability to work across the aisle with colleagues from any party,” the Herald Zeitung newspaper said. in his Sunday obituary.