First elected to in 1964, Foley represented the 5th Congressional District in Washington state, which includes Spokane, for 30 years. He became speaker in 1989 in the wake of an ethics scandal that brought down then-Speaker Jim Right, D-Texas. In 1994 he became the first sitting speaker of the House to be defeated for re-election since the Civil War when he was the top target of the so-called Republican Revolution. In that year, Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades.
He was the 57th speaker of the house, and the first speaker from Washington State. Other roles Foley held during his tenure in Washington include majority whip, majority leader and chairman of the Agriculture Committee, an important role for his rural-based district
"Forthright and warmhearted, Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle," current House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any Speaker or representative."
After he lost re-election, Foley went on to serve as ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration and was a critic of the increasing levels of partisanship in Washington.