WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jack Kemp, a star football quarterback who became a congressman, U.S. Cabinet secretary and Republican vice presidential nominee, died on Saturday at age 73.
Kemp died of cancer at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, The New York Times said, quoting his son, Jimmy Kemp.
He served 18 years as a congressman from Buffalo, New York, after starring with the Buffalo Bills of the old American Football League. In the House of Representatives, he championed tax cuts, free trade, economic growth and a return to the gold standard.
Kemp ran unsuccessfully for his party’s presidential nomination in 1988 and was Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole’s running mate in the 1996 election.
Kemp also served as secretary of housing and urban development under President George H.W. Bush.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Kemp “championed free market principles that improved the lives of millions of Americans and helped unleash an entrepreneurial spirit that all of us still benefit from today.”
“Jack was a leading voice for a strong national defense, civil rights, and any other policy that empowered people,” McConnell said in the statement on Saturday night.
Kemp used his muscles to rise to the top levels of professional football and then his brain to promote economic growth as a politician.
A hard-nosed competitor in his quarterback days with the Bills and San Diego Chargers in the 1960s, he could be a dogged ideologue for pro-growth tax-cut policies when he was a congressman in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Kemp was something of a surprise choice when Dole, a Kansas senator, tapped him to be his running mate on the 1996 Republican ticket.
The two were not close and had clashed often on policy. Dole was a life-long budget-balancing devotee opposed to unfinanced tax cuts. Kemp saw tax cutting as the priority goal indispensable to growth.
But Dole shifted his stance to make the promise of a 15 percent tax cut the heart of his losing campaign against President Bill Clinton.
The California-born Kemp won AFL championships with the Bills in 1964 and 1965.
He was voted the league’s most valuable player in 1965 and held the AFL records for most passes attempted, most passes completed and most passing yardage gained. He retired in 1969 and the AFL later merged with the National Football League.
Kemp parlayed his sports fame in Buffalo into a congressional career, where one of his biggest successes was helping pass the Kemp-Roth Tax Cut in the 1980s, which was the first of two major tax cuts under President Ronald Reagan.
As housing secretary from 1989-1993, Kemp was an early promoter of enterprise zones in urban areas and establishing inner-city economic resurgence among low-income families. He said his affinity for minority groups was a product of an athlete’s life.
Kemp helped found the Empower America advocacy group that promoted free-market ideas. After Dole lost the 1996 election, Kemp served as co-director there and wrote and lectured.
Writing by Peter Cooney: Editing by John O'Callaghan