In 30 years as a Michigan legislator and congressman, Bob Traxler earned respect for reaching across the aisle and devotion to the public he served.

“Bob was always known in his district, in Lansing and in D.C., for having a big heart and an inclination towards kindness that set him apart in the business of politics,” said Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, in a statement. “He will be missed by many, but the generations of people he mentored will continue his legacy.”

Mr. Traxler died Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, his family said. He was 88.

The Michigan native represented the 8th Congressional District, which once included most of the Thumb region as well as Bay City and Saginaw, in Washington from 1974-93. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat, represents the district now.

During his tenure, the Democrat rose through the ranks to serve on the House Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal money. He was among its 13 subcommittee chairmen, who were called the "College of Cardinals" because of their vast influence over government spending, The Detroit News reported.

Mr. Traxler used his influence to secure projects for the region, according to his obituary.

“Bob Traxler was someone who fought for his constituents and worked across the aisle to get things done,” said U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, in a statement. “… He will be remembered for his life of public service.”

During his time on Capitol Hill, Mr. Traxler welcomed hearing his constituents' concerns, whether farmers seeking aid to recover from the weather or residents who stopped him in a store to talk about a federal agency.

"He wanted to meet with people," said Roger Szemraj, his former chief of staff, who started as an intern in 1974. "He wanted to be available."

Born July 21, 1931, in Kawkawlin, Michigan, Jerome Bob Traxler attended schools in Bay City before earning degrees from Michigan State University and the Detroit College of Law, according to a congressional biography.

He served in the U.S. Army in the 1950s, practiced law in Bay County and was an assistant prosecutor from 1960-62 for the county.

From 1962-74, Mr. Traxler served in the state Legislature. He was a majority leader in the House of Representatives from 1965-66, colleagues said.

Following state voters approval of a referendum in 1972, Mr. Traxler spearheaded a bill that paved the way for the Michigan Lottery, The News reported. Relatives said his efforts led to the nickname “Bingo Bob." 

In 1974, he won a congressional seat vacated by Republican James Harvey, who had been appointed a federal judge.

He was re-elected nine times, congressional records show.

“I remember watching Bob’s career from a young age and admiring his work for our state,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, in a statement. “I am grateful that I was able to depend on Bob’s advice after being elected to Congress.”

His daughter, Sarah Traxler, recalls her father as "a people person" who anticipated returning to Michigan to interact with voters and hear their needs. "I don’t think it was work for him," she said.

In 1992, Mr. Traxler announced he would not seek re-election, saying he could “no longer endure the pain” of serving amid political gridlock and unaddressed issues.

Mr. Traxler went on to join the MSU Board of Trustees and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

“He did much good for many people, loved Michigan, his district and Mackinac Island,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, in a Facebook post Thursday.

Besides his daughter, other survivors include his wife, Jean; stepchildren Greg Hose and Caroline Whittington; and nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by brothers Kenneth Traxler and Ben Sylvester.

Visitation is scheduled for 2-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Trahan Funeral Chapel, 256 N. Madison Avenue, Bay City.

Funeral services are 11 a.m. Wednesday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 815 N. Grant St., Bay City. 

Read or Share this story: