Cass Ballenger, a nine-term congressman from North Carolina, died on Wednesday at a hospice in his hometown, Hickory. He was 88.
His death was confirmed by Tommy Luckadoo, a longtime aide.
Mr. Ballenger, a Republican, served in the North Carolina House from 1975 to 1977 and in the State Senate from 1977 to 1986 before being elected to Congress. He introduced the first substantive open-meetings law enacted in North Carolina.
In Congress, Mr. Ballenger made headlines in 2001 when the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, showed up at his home in Hickory with most of his cabinet for a barbecue. The two often met while Mr. Ballenger was chairman of a House international subcommittee.
Near the end of his tenure in Washington, Mr. Ballenger became a magnet for controversy. He cast a key vote in December 2001 that helped pass hotly contested legislation giving President George W. Bush authority to negotiate global trade agreements and submit them to Congress for a yes-or-no vote. Waiting until time had expired on the roll call, Mr. Ballenger was one of the few Republicans who stepped forward to ensure a one-vote majority for the measure.
He also said that Cynthia McKinney, a black congresswoman from Georgia known for her abrasive style, had stirred in him “a little bit of a segregationist feeling.” He later apologized for what he called “pretty stupid remarks.”
Thomas Cass Ballenger was born on Dec. 6, 1926, in Hickory, and attended Amherst College. Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Donna Davis Ballenger; three daughters, Cindy Ballenger, Missy Jordan, and D. D. Weaver; and three grandchildren.