Throughout his long political career, Slade Gorton was often characterized as aloof and arrogant, impatient, out of touch. His cocky certainty on seemingly every issue of the day made people furious, though they admired -- were even awed -- by the sheer intellectualism that guided him as a three-term Senator, and in retirement, a distinguished member of the 911 Commission, and recently, an appointee who carved up Washington's new congressional districts.
Hughes told Seattle Weekly today that he spent 15 months on the project and close to 30 hours in one-on-one sessions with Gorton, who turned 84 on Jan. 8. "He really is a fascinating guy," said Hughes, who also wrote a biography of former Gov. Booth Gardner and political columnist Adele Ferguson. "He loves to be all over the map. He enjoys being the contrarian."
"I think what surprised me most about Gorton, and I know Joel Connelly (political columnist for Seattle PI.com) has written about this is that while the environmentalists have tried to portray him as Public Enemy No. 1, Gorton was for banning billboards, and he was instrumental in setting aside hugh tracts of wilderness land."
Although demonized in the 2000 race he lost to Maria Cantwell (Full disclosure: I worked as her press secretary on that campaign) as a inflexible right-winger and given the disparaging nickname Skeletor, Gorton started in politics as a moderate. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment, opposed banning abortion, favored a state income tax as a state legislator, and in 1974 called on President Nixon to resign amid the Watergate disgrace. As a U.S. Senator, first elected in 1980, he was often at odds with Ronald Reagan.
Hughes says Gorton would have probably liked a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after losing to Sen. Brock Adams in 1986 (he beat Mike Lowry two years later and returned to the Senate). But Gorton knew his uneasy relationship had probably cost him.
What Slade sensed at the time was fully documented in 2007 when Reagan's
diaries were published. The dyspeptic entry for May 27, 1987, says: "Last
subject was a group of our Sens are demanding we appoint former Sen. Slade
Gorton (Wash. defeated in 1986) to court of appeals. We might settle for a
district judgeship if there's an opening--but he has been an opponent of
everything I've tried to do."
Hughes devotes a good deal of attention chronicling the races Gorton won and lost. Gorton, says Hughes, believes Reagan may have cost him his Senate in 1986 by not making it clear that the President did not want Hanford to be the sole repository for nuclear waste.
A ROARINGCROWD of 5,000 filled the Spokane Coliseum on the morning
of October 31, with Joel Pritchard as master of ceremonies, exhorting the
faithful to welcome the president with a rolling wave. Reagan dutifully
saluted the Washington State University Marching Band, the Central Valley
High School Band, the Eastern Washington University Collegians and "three
members of Washington State's A-Team in Washington, D.C.: Senator Dan
Evans and Representatives Sid Morrison and Rod Chandler--and of course
the State Chairman of the GOP . . . Dunn Jennifer!" That gaffe was especially
embarrassing because Dunn adored the president. She had named one of her
"Slade Gorton is a man of principle and integrity," the president declared.
"You know, every time Slade walks into the Oval Office, I can't help
thinking of another great senator from your state--Scoop Jackson. And like
Scoop, when Slade sits across a table from you he has the courage and
honesty to tell you what he believes, whether he agrees with you or not.seen him in action, making a reality of Scoop's longtime dream of a home
port for the Navy at Everett, and believe me he's about the most effective
fighter any state has on Capitol Hill."
Gorton was holding his breath. "A perfect example," Reagan continued, "is
the issue of selecting potential sites for a nuclear waste repository. Slade has
told me about his deep concern for the health and safety of Washingtonians,
particularly as it relates to this issue. On this point, Slade has gotten the ears
of everyone back in the nation's capital." Someone in the audience yelled,
"Way to go, Slade!" Reagan nodded. Slade kept smiling.
"Now, as you know, there were plans to begin work at Hanford this fiscal year. Well, Slade,
working with Dan Evans and Mark Hatfield, persuaded the Congress to
adopt a provision that stops the drilling of an exploratory shaft for 12
months. And Slade has alerted me that some people have suggested that this
administration might intentionally circumvent the law. Well, that's the kind
o tell you I will see to it that the law on this issue is followed to the letter, and
let no one tell you differently. . . . So when you go to the polls, win one for
Slade Gorton; win one for your future, and win one for America's future.
And I can't resist saying it: Win one for the Gipper!" With that, thousands of
balloons descended from the rafters.
The Gipper had just fumbled on the 5-yard line. Slade was still grinning on
the outside as Reagan clasped his hand and held it high. Somewhere in the
Adams war room high fives were being exchanged. Halloween was no treat
for the Gorton campaign. Around the state and across the nation, Reagan's
muddled statements about Hanford led every newspaper story and newscast.
As far as the 2000 race that ended Gorton's career in elected politics, Hughes says he and Cantwell were very much like in a lot of way, including having "a charisma deficit."
Hughes adds that it is ironic that Cantwell won in a good measure for doing what Gorton did to Sen. Warren "Maggie" Magnuson in 1980 -- portraying his opponent as too old and feeble to deserve a hold on power any longer.
Hughes says that while Gorton's friends funded the printed version of the book, neither they nor Gorton had any say in his approach and never asked for it.