In Wichita Falls, Tower became active in the Republican party of Texas. In 1954 he ran an unsuccessful race for state representative from the Eighty-first District, and in 1956 he led Texas as a delegate to the Republican national convention. By 1960 he was sufficiently well known to be nominated at the state Republican convention to run against Lyndon B. Johnson for senator in the November general election. Johnson easily won the election but was also elected vice president. William Blakely was appointed to fill the seat that Johnson resigned, and a special election was slated for the spring. Tower led in this election and beat Blakely in the runoff on May 27. As the first Republican senator elected in Texas since 1870, he was seen by many as heralding the arrival of two-party politics in Texas. He was reelected to the Senate in 1966, 1972, and 1978. Upon assuming his Senate seat, Tower was assigned to two major committees: Labor and Public Welfare, and Banking and Currency. He served on the former until 1964. He remained on the Banking and Currency Committee, which in 1971 became the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, throughout his Senate career. In 1965 Tower was assigned to the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which where he served continuously until his retirement; he was chairman from 1981 to 1984. He also served on the Joint Committee on Defense Production from 1963 until 1977 and on the Senate Republican Policy Committee in 1962 and from 1969 until 1984. He was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee from 1973 to 1984. In his twenty-four year Senate career, Tower influenced a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he worked to strengthen and modernize the nation's defenses. He was widely respected for his skills at guiding legislation through Congress. He worked to stimulate economic growth, improve opportunities for small business, improve transportation systems, and encourage strong financial institutions and systems. He was also concerned with promoting prosperity in agriculture, the energy industry, the fishing and maritime industries, and other areas of commerce particularly important to Texans.
Senator Tower took a leadership role in Republican politics in Texas and on the national level. He supported Barry Goldwater for president in 1964, headed Richard M. Nixon's Key Issues Committee in 1968, supported Gerald Ford for president in 1976, and worked for the Reagan-Bush tickets in 1980 and 1984, and the Bush-Quayle ticket in 1988. He was a member of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1962-63, 1969-70, and 1973-74 and was its chairman in 1969-70. He was a Texas delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1980. He also chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Platform Subcommittee in 1972, and was chairman of the National Republican Platform Committee in 1980. Tower also maintained close ties with his alma mater, Southwestern University, and served on its board of trustees from 1968 through 1991. In 1964 he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university and was named distinguished alumnus in 1968. The Tower-Hester Chair of Political Science, named for Tower and his former professor George C. Hester, was inaugurated at Southwestern University in 1975.
Tower retired from the Senate on January 3, 1985. Two weeks later President Ronald Reagan appointed him chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. Tower served for fifteen months in this role and gained the Soviets' respect for his negotiating skills, knowledge of the issues, and mastery of technical details. In April 1986 he resigned to pursue personal business. Tower was distinguished lecturer in political science at Southern Methodist University from 1986 until 1988 and chaired Tower, Eggers, and Greene Consulting, Incorporated of Dallas and Washington from 1987 to 1991. Reagan again called Tower into government service in November 1986, when he appointed him to chair the President's Special Review Board to study the actions of the National Security Council and its staff during the Iran-Contra affair. The board, which became known as the Tower Commission, issued its report on February 26, 1987. In 1989 Tower was President George Bush's choice to become secretary of defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination because of his conservative political views and alleged excessive drinking and womanizing. The charges, counter-charges, and accusations of the hearings are chronicled in Tower's 1991 book, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir. In 1990 President Bush named Tower chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Senator Tower died, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash near New Brunswick, Georgia, on April 5, 1991.
32° 52.128, -096° 46.675
Providence Monument Garden
Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery