A former Missouri state senator and representative who championed disability rights has died, after suffering a heart attack.

Then-State Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, briefs Missouri Capitol reporters in Jefferson City on February 16, 2004 (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Former State Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, died this morning at the age of 55, according to his wife, Kate. She posted on Facebook that he died at home, after suffering what’s believed to be a massive heart attack.

Graham served 12 years in the Missouri Legislature: eight in the House and four in the Senate.

Graham was first elected to the House in 1996 and served four terms. He was forced out by term limits, and ran for an open Missouri Senate seat in 2004. The incumbent that year, former State Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, was term-limited as well. Graham won the 2004 race and served one term, losing a 2008 re-election bid to Columbia Republican Kurt Schaefer.

The top issue that Graham championed in both chambers was disability rights. Graham, who used a wheelchair, emphasized the importance of job opportunities for disabled residents in his district, and across the state.

Graham successfully led the bipartisan legislative effort in 2001 to obtain money for construction for a new Mizzou basketball arena in Columbia. Graham’s legislation provided $35 million in revenue bonds for construction of the new arena, which replaced the Hearnes Center as the home for Tiger men’s and women’s basketball.

Political figures on both sides of the aisle have been praising Graham’s service and focus on disability rights.

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, who served with Graham in the Legislature for four years, tweeted today that Graham was a “great Missouri Democrat, and even a better man. Proud to call him my friend. He will be deeply missed.”

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, who now holds the Senate seat Graham once did, tweeted his condolences as well.

“Chuck served our community in a number of meaningful ways while always staying focused on protecting our community’s most vulnerable citizens. His passion to help those in need serves as a reminder and motivation to each of us. I will be praying for his family as they mourn his passing,” Rowden tweets.

Rowden tells Missourinet that he and Graham talked numerous times in various settings. Rowden notes that Graham moderated a few disability-themed forums, when Rowden ran for the Missouri House and Senate.

Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) praises Graham too. She served as the Missouri state auditor for eight of the years that Graham served in the Legislature.

“A fearless advocate for stem cell research, mental health coverage, and for those with disabilities,” McCaskill tweeted Wednesday.

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