With the passing of Slade Gorton, tributes have been profuse about the three-term U.S. senator and former state attorney general, from Democrats and Republicans alike.
In all of them, there is a wistfulness — not just for the contributions of this venerable public servant but also for his optimism and authenticity. No question, Sen. Gorton was a conservative, but he was self-directed, not party directed; he would work for the region, the state and the nation authentically for solutions, not to collect issues, chits or dirty laundry for the next election.
He saved the Mariners and found a buyer to keep them here. He mentored women, including former Gov. Christine Gregoire when she worked for the AG’s office.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the former senator joined the 9/11 commission, its 10 members evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Their 2004 recommendations about improvements to intelligence, security and diplomacy, were unanimous. Ten years later, they came together to admonish elected officials to return to the collaboration of a decade earlier, to meet the evolving threat to the nation’s security:
“The administrations of Obama and George W. Bush have done an admirable job in preventing another 9/11-like attack, and the nation is now safer as a result,” he wrote. “But the threat is now different, evolving and equally dangerous. Leaders in the presidential administration and Congress need to work together successfully to meet this threat with the kind of bipartisan cooperation that the 9/11 Commission developed a decade ago.”
Looking back through the Op-Ed columns Sen. Gorton wrote for The Seattle Times, he sometimes expressed wistfulness himself for a government that contested ideas rather than brutally crushed opponents. In 2012, he joined with former Gov. Mike Lowry, who unsuccessfully tried to oust Gorton in a Senate race, to lament the humiliation of a young campaign staffer who had expressed inappropriate comments on social media. These lions of politics called for a kinder approach for political cubs.
” … We’d urge the Washington state media to take the lead in establishing self-imposed standards in reporting in these cases,” they wrote. “There’s a lot more at stake than one election. And when the two of us agree on something, we hope you’ll agree it’s worth considering.”
Just this March, in an Op-Ed titled “The U.S. Senate is crippled by its own rule-making,” he shared his exasperation with the state of debate. He had joined a group of about 70 former senators who were calling for formation of a similar caucus comprising “current members of the chamber dedicated to returning the Senate to its historic role as a body in which major national issues are considered, debated and resolved.”
In 2016, this lifelong Republican was chagrined at Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee and not consoled at all by Democrat Hillary Clinton as the other choice. He ended an Op-Ed titled “Pray for a third-party candidate” with these words, “God save the United States of America.”
Gorton, who had called for President Richard Nixon to resign when he was state AG, later said the U.S. House’s impeachment of President Trump was justified.
Last year, 30 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he wrote an Op-Ed urging U.S. officials not to abandon those in communist China who seek democracy and a greater say in their lives and government. In making his argument, he wrote a tribute to his own government, which had sustained him, encouraged him and even maybe broke his heart:
“We believe in the rule of law, not autocratic dictates, in open debate and in honest competition, all based on the fact that our laws are written by freely elected representatives of the people whom those laws govern.”
Those are words for us all to live by.