When I was a fledgling political reporter fresh out of the University of Washington, I covered several sessions of the state Legislature. I was learning on the job about government and politics, and one of my unofficial tutors was Slade Gorton.
At the time, Gorton was Washington’s popular attorney general. I always enjoyed interviewing him because he was– as many of his old colleagues have said while reflecting on his political life and his death this week at age 92 – generally the smartest guy in the room (except, perhaps, when he was in the same room as his fellow titan of the old state GOP, Gov. Dan Evans). I remember, in particular, one encounter with Gorton on the closing night of a legislative session. Some now-forgotten piece of enlightened legislation had been left on the table, and I asked Gorton what he made of this failure. The attorney general gave me more than a good quote, he waxed eloquent about the never-ending process of making law, the dance of legislation that never ends.
During Gorton’s three terms in the U.S. Senate, I drew plenty of cartoons that lampooned Gorton and were critical of some of his political views – he leaned right and I leaned left, so that was no surprise – but I respected his intellect and integrity. He always had a good argument that could make even a critic pause and rethink things. And he was the kind of Republican that barely exists anymore. He was rational, not wildly partisan and sought common ground with senators on the other side of the political divide because he was more interested in governing than in crushing the opposition.
His final act of leadership, which contrasted with the cowardice of the current crop of Republican officeholders, was to support President Donald Trump’s removal from office. Gorton had been the chief lawyer for the people of this state, and he concluded, “There are a dozen actions on this president’s part that warrant a vote of impeachment in the House.”
Slade Gorton was a giant in a party now dominated by dwarfs.
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