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Remembering Hatfield

Who Survives? USFS or NPS

I’d like to combine two of the recent posts in this space by Chris Carlson and offer up a provocative wager to our readers.

To set the stage: Chris opined, and I agree, that we’d likely see a push to overturn the Winters Doctrine pertaining to Native American water rights if we begin to see chronic water shortages in the western U.S. In fact he offered to wager on his prediction. Given our treatment of native peoples I won’t take his wager. I’m not sure about the water rights of other federal reservations, either.

Then, in another post, he suggested why former Gov and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus had reservations about turning over much of Alaska to the National Park Service (view the NPS website to learn more). Chris argues that NPS lands in Alaska have become playgrounds for the rich, while at the same time drawing our attention to a rather heavy handed NPS response to someone who had apparently violated regulations on one of the Alaska units of the park system.  Fear of over-use led Andrus and others to support the National Recreation Area (learn more on Wikipedia) concept in the Sawtooths, Hells Canyon and the White Clouds. Andrus also crossed swords with the late Paul Fritz who I came to know well, but who could be zealot for NPS management of the Sawtooths. The Sawtooths clearly are not a playground for the rich, but, ironically there is a small town a little way down the road that certainly has that reputation.

So here’s the wager: which bureau has a better chance to survive the next one hundred years: the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service (visit the Forest Service website)? (Disclaimer: I was seasonal ranger for NPS at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at Wahweap and Lees Ferry).

The Shield of Moral Rectitude

Earlier this month one of the true senatorial “statesman” from the Pacific Northwest states, former five-term senator and two-term governor from Oregon, 89-year-old Mark O.  Hatfield, was laid to rest.  By definition, a “statesman” is one who rises above petty partisan interests, is an independent thinker who puts the best interests of the nation ahead of partisanship, especially policies steeped in intolerant ideology.

Though a solid Republican, his ability to work across the aisle was duly noted as well as his principles and fine character.  Longtime observer and participant on both the regional and national political stages, former Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, said that Hatfield and the late Washington Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (read Jackson’s biography), were the two “giants, and the two greatest statesman in the Senate” that he’d seen in his 50 plus years of political activity.

As a rookie reporter in Washington, D.C., I covered northwest issues for an independent news bureau run by A.  Robert Smith (view Smith’s work).  While Bob had the lead for our seven Oregon clients, and I had the lead for our three Alaska clients as well as the six Idaho papers that took a weekly column I wrote, we backed up each other often.  Thus, I was frequently in Hatfield’s office as a part of my daily rounds.

Soft-spoken, articulate, thoughtful, courteous, patient, a quick smile to go along with a quick mind, an impeccable dresser, and a history buff, especially of the Civil War and the role President Abraham Lincoln (a bust of Lincoln sat in a prominent place in the office) played, are the associations that come back to mind.

There was something else, though, that really differentiated him from most of his colleagues:  he radiated decency, probity and moral rectitude.  A reporter, just like Oregon voters, knew Mark Hatfield was the real deal, a genuine person, a man of character and values.

He always answered questions directly and forthrightly though at times one felt he leaned almost too far over to ensure he did justice to the complexity and ambiguity that so often lies at the heart of any difficult issue or question.  The very first “Carlson Report” I penned from D.C. for my Idaho clients on April 11, 1971, was a speculative piece on Hatfield’ future.  It was titled “A Republican Gene McCarthy (read McCarthy’s biography)?” and was derived from the fact that independent Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey (Read McCloskey’s biography) from California was citing Hatfield as a possible presidential primary challenger to the already harried Richard Nixon.

Indeed, it is said that Hatfield was on Nixon’s short list of potential vice presidential running mates in 1968 and he unquestionably would have been a far better choice than Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew, who resigned the vice-presidency in disgrace before Nixon resigned the presidency.  Had Nixon chosen Hatfield there would have been no disgrace and the Oregon senator would have become president.

Asked about McCloskey’s forwarding his name, one has to admire Hatfield’s candor:  “I can’t support such a move and I’m not involved but I’m not going to tell McCloskey what to do either way,” he said.  Then he added “I don’t see a primary challenge taking place, but I’m not ruling it out.”

Despite serious reservations about the Vietnam War, Hatfield was nominally going to remain loyal to his party’s president.  Asked whether the advancing of his name might lead to his replacing a dumped Spiro Agnew, Hatfield said his elevation onto the ticket was as unrealistic as Nixon being denied renomination, but then added that under certain circumstances he would accept the second spot on such a “schizophrenic” ticket.

Pure candor and honesty, and why not?  Hatfield had already been through the accusation from hell, and knew from personal experience that his aura of probity and rectitude had helped him win his first term as governor in 1958.

The fact is Mark Hatfield went to his grave carrying the awful burden when just shy of 18 years of age having accidently hit and killed  a seven year old girl who had suddenly darted in front of his car.  It was a horrible tragedy for all involved and profoundly impacted the senator the rest of his life.

What compounded the tragic event, which happened in 1940, was that Oregon’s maverick U.S. Senator, Wayne Morse (Read Morse’s biography), decided to inject the tragedy into the 1958 re-election campaign of his Democratic colleague, Gov. Robert Holmes, without even informing Holmes. The story is recounted in A. Robert Smith’s fine biography of Morse.

In speeches in several places Morse charged that Hatfield, though never charged with anything, had not testified honestly in a civil suit brought by the girl’s parents, and he made much of the fact that a jury had awarded the plaintiffs modest compensation which had been sustained on appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.

It was a classic case of Morse, the former law school dean, making a questionable interpretation of a very legal matter and trying to turn it to political advantage.  Hatfield, who the day he decided to enter politics, knew somewhere, someday some one would try to tarnish him with this tragedy, had put into the file a brief statement deploring the re-opening of the scar of this tragedy and urging compassion for all involved.

Oregon voters were quick to condemn Morse with an unconscionable crossing of a line that shouldn’t be crossed, and while most observers believe Hatfield would have won anyway, the expected election turned into a complete route of Holmes.  It was a classic backfire and to this day serves as a reminder to politicians not to try to take advantage of personal human tragedies.