OLYMPIA — A steadfast leader. A loyal friend. The smartest person in the room.
Washington’s Republican and Democratic officials alike Wednesday offered condolences and recollections of former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.
A Washington Republican whose 40 years of public service included three terms in the Senate and three terms as state attorney general, Gorton died Wednesday morning at 92.
Former state Secretary of State Sam Reed described Gorton as “a good friend” who could bring together opponents to get legislation passed.
“He had a love of politics, a love of political craftsmanship, and doing it right and being fair,” Reed, who has long been involved in GOP politics, said Wednesday morning. “And conducting yourself with civility and moderation and bipartisanship.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray — a Democrat who served alongside Gorton in that chamber in the 1990s — recalled their work on behalf of the state.
That work strengthened cleanup efforts at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, toughened standards for pipeline safety, addressed congestion issues around the Puget Sound and helped expand children’s health care, said Murray in prepared remarks.
“I’ll always cherish our collaboration and what we were able to achieve together on behalf of Washington state — as well as the memories from our friendly, yet competitive, annual staff softball game,” she said.
Murray pointed to Gorton’s willingness to stand up to his own party at times, including to help save the National Endowment for the Arts and, recently, to speak out against President Donald Trump.
Breaking with nearly all of his party, Gorton last fall said the U.S. House was justified in impeaching Trump.
“Throughout his career in both Washingtons, Slade defied convenient labels and stood on principle — we need more leaders in our country like Slade.”
But Gorton was also well-known for his ability to beat Democrats, said state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
Gorton will be perhaps remembered most for his three terms in the U.S. Senate — and the last Republican Washingtonians sent to the Senate. But Schoesler in a statement also recalled Gorton’s early career at the Legislature in Olympia.
“As House Republican Leader, he helped assemble the coalition that unseated a Democratic speaker in 1963, and set the stage for the responsible, pragmatic Republican leadership that modernized state government and dominated Washington politics for more than a decade,” Schoesler said. “The role he played in the enormous redistricting battle of 1965 is a legend around the statehouse even today.”
And Schoesler credited Gorton with helping to get — and keep — the Seattle Mariners in Washington.
“Slade was involved from the beginning, pressing the lawsuit on behalf of the state that led the American League to offer a franchise to Seattle,” Schoesler wrote in prepared remarks. “And when the future of the team was in doubt in the early ‘90s, he worked to retain local ownership and helped convince the opinion makers of this state that the issue was more than baseball.”
“Whenever Slade was around, you knew he was the smartest person in the room,” Schoesler added later. “And it’s going to seem a whole lot emptier with him gone.”
Throughout Wednesday, public officials hailed Gorton in statements. Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman called him one the state’s “fiercest leaders and greatest champions today.”
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said Gorton left “an important legacy for the state and the nation” and state flags would be lowered the day his memorial service takes place.
Much of Gorton’s legacy spanned previous decades — and also included an unsuccessful, yearslong fight as state attorney general against a court decision that recognized treaty rights reserved by Western Washington tribes to have half of the salmon catch.
That fight and others earned him ire and opposition from tribes in Washington and across the nation — and ultimately helped cost Gorton his Senate seat.
But even into this year, Gorton continued his work.
This spring, he got involved in the primary bid of Raul Garcia, a Yakima doctor who ran a first-time campaign — ultimately unsuccessful — for governor.
The two spoke by phone early in the campaign, and Gorton later endorsed and helped the candidate, Garcia said.
“He was certainly a man who gave his service to the last minute,” Garcia said.
Gorton also authored opinion columns in this newspaper, such as one advocating for reforms to make the U.S. Senate more productive and open to debate. In an opinion column last June, Gorton advocated for those seeking democracy for mainland China.
“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,” Gorton wrote in that piece. “It is that system that we seek for the people of mainland China. The road to success is likely to be long and tortuous, but the prize is of infinite value. Let us continue to seek it, without doubt and without pause.”