Our View: Reflecting on Sen. Hatfield, leadership
"COURAGE." In 1966, billboards around the state displayed that one word. It was part of then Gov. Mark Hatfield's U.S. Senate campaign against Congressman Bob Duncan. The billboards were a reference to his lone vote at the National Governors Conference opposing a resolution supporting the Vietnam War. It was also a powerful statement about the character of Oregon's longest serving and most successful political leader.
Tuesday, July 12, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Mark Hatfield, who died in 2011. As former staffers to the senator, we know well the powerful lessons he taught so many of us about politics, leadership and personal integrity. Given the tone and tenor of our current politics, three of those lessons are especially worth repeating now.
• Respect Our System of Government.
Throughout his 46 years in elective office, Hatfield had a deep reverence for our intuitions of government. He didn't want to tear them down, he wanted to make them better. He appreciated the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in separating federal power between the three branches of government and viewed himself a steward of the legislative branch.
He also had faith in our electoral process to guarantee the peaceful transition of power, but also knew that the integrity of that process was dependent upon the integrity of the men and women who were involved. Rather than attack or denigrate our political institutions and processes, he sought to support and enhance them.
• Love Thy Neighbor.
At a retirement tribute to Sen. Hatfield in 1996, President Bill Clinton remarked: "because he tried to love his enemies, he has no enemies."
It wasn't just his calling as a committed Christian. Mark Hatfield genuinely liked people regardless of their party affiliation, and it showed. Hatfield knew that politics is the art of human relationships, and it was easier to pass legislation if you forged genuine friendships. What a contrast to the bitter partisan warfare so prevalent in Washington, D.C., today. His relationships were also not reserved for the powerful. In fact, he directed his staff to get to know the Senate cafeteria and janitorial workers on a first name basis.
• Your Values are More Important Than Your Re-Election.
In 1995, the U.S. Senate was on the verge of an historic vote to approve a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to require a federal balanced budget. The outcome of that vote came down to Hatfield. The pressure on him was immense, but he strongly believed that such an amendment was not wise and so voted against the amendment. It failed by one vote. The blowback from some of his Republican Senate colleagues was severe, and he was threatened with having his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee taken away from him.
Hatfield — with the support of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole — stared them down, and that effort failed. Sen. Hatfield was known for taking courageous and somewhat controversial positions during his career, but always based on his values.
Such courage is all too rare, and inspiring. Mark Hatfield was in full agreement with the late Congressman Henry Hyde's admonishment: "(Congress) needs members who are at least as clear on the reasons they would risk losing as they are on the reasons why they wanted to come here in the first place."
Our lives and the lives of many others were forever changed by the opportunity to know and work for Sen. Hatfield. As we commemorate his 100th birthday and reflect on his legacy, let us all seek in public and private life to have a little more respect, a little more friendship, and a lot more courage.
Let us also remember these words of Sen. Hatfield, "All of us need each other, all of us must lift and pull others as we rise, all of us must rise together — powerful, free, one self-determined people."
The centennial of Mark Hatfield's birth will be observed in special events by the Oregon Historical Society.
One event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, at the society, 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland. Two of Hatfield's successors as governor, Democrats Barbara Roberts (1991-95) and Ted Kulongoski (2003-11) will be among those sharing their memories. Root beer floats — a Hatfield favorite — will be served.
The traveling exhibit, "The Call of Public Service: The Life and Legacy of Mark O. Hatfield," also will be on display at the event.
The second event is the move of the exhibit to the Mark O. Hatfield Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University, 3251 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, for a showing between Aug. 1 and Oct. 2. As chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hatfield steered millions in federal grants to OHSU.
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