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The long-serving politician anticipated the need for medical preparedness in case of a pandemic

May 30, 2001. Former Senator Mark Hatfield.It's impossible to spend any time on Marquam Hill in Southwest Portland and not encounter the name Mark O. Hatfield. As Oregon's longest serving United States senator (1967–97), Hatfield steered more than $300 million in federal funding to Oregon Health & Science University's various medical centers, including the $131 million to build the Veteran's Administration Hospital on the hill.

Historian Christopher Foss writes about Hatfield's work on behalf of OHSU in his book "Facing the World: Defense Spending and International Trade in the Pacific Northwest Since World War Two." (Oregon State University Press)

Foss, who lives in Southeast Portland, documents how as a powerful Republican senator redirected defense spending from conventional warfare "toward a new national security — education and health." According to a former top aide, Hatfield "saw OHSU as his legacy."

Hatfield is just one of the elected leaders from the Pacific Northwest Foss covers in his book. But his was a huge role in attracting "a disproportionate number of federal dollars to a small, relatively unpopulated region."

Foss answered a series of questions about how Hatfield did it.

FACING THE WORLD Defense Spending and International Trade in the Pacific Northwest since World War Two by Christopher Foss.SW Connection: With the current news about coronavirus you've got to think Sen. Hatfield was onto something when he argued in 1995, "Well, I want to tell you, viruses are coming." Was there much support in the U.S. Senate for that stand?

Foss: I recently tweeted out a video of Hatfield making that comment. Hatfield was trying to argue that, in that year's budget deliberations, that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should not lose the funding needed for it to carry on its research. There was some concern NIH might even have to close if its funding was reduced or cut altogether as part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America"-inspired budget that year.

COVID-19, alas, may be beyond us, in part because of the present administration's stubborn denial, obfuscation or bungling of the seriousness of the problem, but also in part because this coronavirus is more widespread and contagious than even the pandemics Hatfield referenced in his 1995 speech. I'm not sure he foresaw something like COVID-19 at that time.

SW Connection: Was the Oregonian newspaper correct when an editorial in 1990 asserted that, without Sen. Hatfield's advocacy, OHSU would have been nothing more that "a mediocre medical limb" of the University of Oregon?

Foss: I don't think there's any doubt OHSU would not have been what it was without Hatfield's efforts. On the one hand, he got the money out of the Senate Appropriations Committee for things like the skybridge between OHSU and the VA hospital, and what eventually became the Hatfield Research Center. On the other hand, he was successful at getting the ball rolling on donations from local benefactors, such as Tektronix's Howard Vollum, whose funding started the Vollum Institute and gave a big boost to the research side of OHSU.

Hatfield saw national security as more than just weapons arsenals and troop counts. In fact, he thought the U.S. was oftentimes less secure with military funding. Education and health, in particular, to him were national security concerns, and those naturally intersected at OHSU, which he was able to really start helping once he became chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1981 and could, therefore, have real influence over what went into the annual federal budget.

ORWEGON STATE LIBRARY PHOTO - Circa 1961 - Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield.SW Connection: How did Hatfield steer so much funding to OHSU? It couldn't have been easy, so he must have been pretty good at politics.

Foss: He knew how to play the political game well. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Hatfield was a good people person, he was charming, he was warm, he was a good public speaker, and he was admired by women (and perhaps intimidated by men!) because of how good-looking he was. In 1980, the Republicans won the Senate and gained control of the committee chairmanships. Hatfield was the No. 1 Republican in Appropriations. Gerry Frank had suggested many years earlier that Hatfield move to that committee, so that he could have a more direct impact on federal dollars that came to Oregon.

SW Connection: Why did the Oregon Medical Association oppose the creation of OHSU?

Foss: The OMA, I think, was probably led by old-school, old-time doctors that didn't want their profession disrupted, and thus bought into fears that federal, even state investment in health care was somehow tantamount to "socialized medicine." For the state to provide funding to the medical school, then, was one step closer to communism, in an era in which McCarthyism was at its peak, and along with that went the Hollywood Ten, the McCarthy-Army hearings, the State Department purge of suspected communists and homosexuals, and so on.

SW Connection: Is it true that Oregon has relatively few military installations and Washington several because Hatfield and Sen. Wayne Morse were not supportive of military involvement overseas, while Sens. Warren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson in Washington were?

Foss: To figure out why Oregon has fewer military installations than Washington, you actually need to go all the way back to the beginning of white settlement of the Pacific Northwest in the 19th century. Until the U.S. obtained the Oregon Territory from the British, the biggest military installation in the area was in Fort Vancouver, so it was already in what would become Washington. But early surveyors and military officials figured out something else, too: if you're trying to establish adequate sea defenses and shipping lanes for commerce in this new Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound is more advantageous than the Columbia River. By the Second World War, Oregon had caught up a little bit due to wartime military necessity, but compared to Washington's bases, Oregon's were tiny and recently developed.

Magnuson was loathe to get mad at anyone, or at least stay mad at them for too long, because he knew that today's enemy was tomorrow's ally. In that way he was very pragmatic and even chummy. Morse was neither. Morse was an extremely smart, diligent senator who did his homework and knew the issues better than almost anyone, but he was not chummy, and he didn't make friends in Congress. In his early years, furthermore (1946-53) he was a Republican in an era when Democrats generally controlled the Senate. When he switched to the Democrats in 1955, Oregon had already lost a lot of its military bases.

SW Connection: In your opinion, is Mark Hatfield the greatest U.S. senator from Oregon?

You can define greatness any way you like.

Foss: That's a great question. I think that if Hatfield were around, he would actually make the case for Charles McNary, who was a prominent Republican senator from 1917 to 1944. At the national level, he was Wendell Wilkie's running mate in 1940 — one of only two Oregonians ever to be on a presidential ticket.

He being a big proponent of hydropower alone set the stage for Oregon's future economic prosperity, with it being able to get cheap power. McNary was a crucial supporter of New Deal legislation, which helped Oregon through the Depression, at a time in which Oregon Democrats were either indifferent or hostile to the federal government. Hatfield picked up on McNary's brand of liberal Republicanism and carried that ball forward into the 1990s. The way the country is now, I doubt there'll ever be another McNary or Hatfield for Oregon. I talk about this more at the end of the book, but distrust of the federal government, combined with the government's dysfunction, and the lack of real power for most senators (Mitch McConnell not withstanding!) to earmark for their home regions leads me to this conclusion. Ron Wyden, Gordon Smith and Jeff Merkley simply have not proven to be as effective leaders for Oregon, in material terms at least.

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