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Throughout his long political career, Slade Gorto n was often characterized as aloof and arrogant, impatient, out of touch. His cocky certainty on seemingly every

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New Slade Gorton Biography: Arrogant, Fascinating and Always Contrarian

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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.

It is precisely the prowess of Gorton's intellect that emerges as a central theme in Slade Gorton: A Half Century in Politics. The just-released biography was written by John C. Hughes, a state historian and former editor and publisher of The Daily World in Aberdeen.

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.

Writes Hughes:

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.

Writes Hughes:

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

sons Reagan.

"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.

 
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