An Oregon political icon is dead. Mark Hatfield died Sunday evening in Portland. He was 89 years old.
Over his 46 year career, Mark Hatfield developed a tradition of making political announcements in Silverton, Oregon. So on the December day in 1995 when he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, the Republican once again traveled to the small town near Salem.
“For the last 30 years, my calling has been to live in Washington, D.C.,” Hatfield said. “Thirty years of voluntary separation from the state I love is enough.”
Hatfield’s rapid rise in Oregon politics began closer to home. He was born in 1922 in Dallas, Oregon and attended high school in Salem.
In 1950, at the age of 28, he was elected to the Oregon House. Soon came a term in the Oregon Senate, then as Oregon Secretary of State… and then in 1958, he became the youngest person ever to be elected Oregon governor. He was just 36 years old.
By 1964, Hatfield was in the national spotlight enough to be chosen to deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. He gave a preview of his speech for a television newsreel.
“This is the party of faith,” he said. “A faith that believes in the basic eternal moral values of the Judeo-Christian faith.”
Hatfield’s faith played a prominent role in his political career. He spoke of it often and wrote several books on the subject.
In 1966 Hatfield won the first of what would become five terms in the U.S. Senate.
Hatfield was a Republican, but often found himself at odds with his own party, especially because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Oregon’s other long-time Republican Senator, Bob Packwood, supported the war. But he says their differences were never personal.
Packwood says he understood that Hatfield’s opposition to the war grew from his experience in the Navy seeing firsthand the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
“Mark did not talk about it much. Who knows why, it’s just personal,” Packwood says. “And nobody ever pried. It was very clear that the power and devastation of World War II seriously affected his thinking.”
“No one has had a more profound impact on Oregon in the last half century than Mark Hatfield. We’ve lost a true statesman whose legacy lives on in his countless contributions to Oregon’s quality of life. Senator Hatfield’s moral compass, independence and willingness to reach across the aisle are an inspiration to me and countless Oregonians.”
- Gov. John Kitzhaber
In fact, his anti-war stance may have cost him a chance at becoming vice-president in 1968. But as the decades passed Hatfield’s political strength only grew.
As chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Hatfield was in the position to direct cash to his home state. His skill at doing this earned him praise and scorn.
In an interview on OPB television on the eve of his retirement, Hatfield defended his reputation for bringing home the bacon.
“I will take every dollar that I have been able to direct to Oregon, and I will match that to a national interest.. to an international interest,” Hatfield said. “So I think you have to analyze what the projects are, not just the dollars that are involved.”
And money did flow to research on medical breakthroughs, farm innovation and marine science.
And Oregon thanked Hatfield profusely for securing all that cash. His name lives on, on courthouses, libraries, and research centers.
There’s also a Mark Hatfield Wilderness Area in the Columbia River Gorge. That designation rankled some environmentalists, who accused Hatfield of bowing to the timber industry.
Andy Kerr is an attorney with Oregon Wild. He was a long-time political adversary of Mark Hatfield.
“He was on the whole, a great United States Senator,” Kerr says. “But every senator has their dark side, and Mark Hatfield’s dark side was being in favor of roading roadless areas and cutting down old growth forest.”
Kerr may have been a critic, but he also says that Hatfield had a knack for understanding opposing viewpoints. Publicly, Hatfield’s demeanor was formal and disciplined. But long-time aide Gerry Frank says that wasn’t the only side to Hatfield’s personality.
“Behind that and beside that was a very engaging individual who had a keen sense of humor,” he says.
Frank says Hatfield would leave his staff in stitches with his impersonations of other senators. But by the late 1980’s the years in politics started taking their toll.
“Oregon has lost a great son. The United States Senate has lost of one of its former giants. The nation has lost a man who represented honesty and decency. And I have lost a very good friend.
“I know that all Oregonians join me in offering condolences to his wife, Antoinette, and his four children, Elizabeth, Mark Jr., Theresa and Visko.”
- Sen. Ron Wyden
Hatfield’s 1990 re-election campaign turned into one of his fiercest political battles. A well-financed Democrat named Harry Lonsdale flooded the airwaves with ads attacking Hatfield’s environmental record.
One of those ads said, “When it came to voting enough money to clean up these toxic sites, Mark Hatfield voted no. That’s right, Mark Hatfield takes the polluters money then votes not to clean up the mess.”
Hatfield launched a counter-offensive, but at a Portland fundraiser just weeks before the election, he decried the big-money battle that the race had become.
“I think it’s not only obscene, it’s immoral, to spend millions of dollars as if the office were up for sale,” Hatfield told the crowd. “I still believe you earn the trust of the people. You earn it. And it is not up for sale.”
“Senator Hatfield took courageous positions of conscience — from opposing the Vietnam War to advocating for the abolition of the death penalty – in the face of substantial political opposition. He inspired many to public service, encouraging them to work to do what is right rather than what is convenient or popular.”
- Sen. Jeff Merkley
Hatfield won re-election, but it was his final time on the ballot. Two years later in 1992 he found himself under the scrutiny of congressional investigators.
The Senate Ethics Committee rebuked him for failing to disclose more than $42,000 in gifts. Hatfield apologized and accepted the blame for the oversight.
But Hatfield remained chair of the Appropriations Committee and retired a few years later, never having lost an election.
He took up teaching college classes and wrote a memoir, “Against the Grain,” about his conflicts with Republican colleagues. But Gerry Frank says in his later years, Hatfield mostly spent time with his family at his newly purchased home on the Oregon coast.
“He loved to watch the great Pacific Ocean and walk on the beach,” Franks says. “He loved to be in a small community where everybody knew him. That was a great period in his life.”
One of Mark Hatfield’s final public appearances came back in the chamber where he launched his political career: The Oregon House.
On the opening day of the 2007 legislative session, Hatfield administered the oath of office for incoming House Speaker Jeff Merkely — a Democrat and former aide to the Republican senator.
Hatfield then addressed the 60 state lawmakers from the dais.
“Years from now Oregonians will not remember how many members of this House of Representatives were Republicans or Democrats. Rather, what they will remember is whether or not you were men and women of good will, men and women who were Oregonians first, and politicians and partisans second.”
Mark O. Hatfield Library:
Oregon State Archives - Hatfield Administration:
Oregon Historical Society - Mark Hatfield: