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Oregon senator a GOP moderate

Hatfield was a devout Christian who opposed prayer in the public schools and managed to negotiate common ground among the environmentalists, loggers, anti-abortion activists, death penalty foes, business owners, farmers and antiwar protesters who were his constituents.

August 08, 2011|Kim Murphy

Mark O. Hatfield, whose 35 years as Oregon's U.S. senator illuminated his conviction that Republicans could be God-fearing conservatives and also passionate advocates for ending wars and racial discrimination, has died. He was 89.

Hatfield died Sunday in Portland, Ore., his former scheduler and assistant Brenda Hart said. He had been in declining health.

Hatfield, the bedrock of Oregon's once-robust tradition of moderate Republicanism, was a devout evangelical Christian who opposed prayer in the public schools and for years managed to negotiate common ground among the contentious environmentalists, loggers, anti-abortion activists, death penalty opponents, business owners, farmers and antiwar protesters who were his constituents in a state famous for its rollicking political diversity.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations during two terms, Hatfield infuriated his party's leadership by opposing the wars in Vietnam and Iraq and cast the deciding vote in 1986 against a proposed balanced budget amendment, while championing such typically "liberal" issues as handgun control and family medical leave. In the midst of the shrink-government era of Ronald Reagan, Hatfield said he saw his appropriations chairmanship as a golden opportunity for "sending dollars to social programs in desperate need."

He angered conservationists by insisting on timber harvests from the state's storied old-growth forests but crowned his legislative career in 1996 by preserving as wilderness the majestic 500-year-old Douglas fir and hemlock trees of Opal Creek in the Willamette National Forest as a sanctuary for nature lovers and the threatened northern spotted owl.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, August 11, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Mark O. Hatfield: In the Aug. 8 LATExtra section, the obituary of former U.S. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon said that he served 35 years in the Senate. He served 30 years, from 1967 to 1997.

"He has voted according to his conscience, without regard to the politics of the matter. That by itself is unusual," said former Oregon Gov. Victor Atiyeh, the state's last Republican governor, an office Hatfield himself held from 1959 to 1967. "He harkens back to a period of time when people would say, "I didn't agree with him on that, but I'm sure he had a reason for it.' Instead of, 'I didn't agree with him, and I'm going to get him next time,' which is what happens now."

Once seriously considered as a vice presidential running mate for President Nixon, Hatfield -- who said he couldn't imagine why Nixon would have chosen him, and ultimately he didn't -- was a rogue Republican before it became fashionable.

"His courtesy and his unfailing respect for the views of others made him probably one of the most respected and well-liked members of the United States Senate," U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview conducted with the Hatfield Project, which is producing a documentary on the senator's life. "The thing that impressed me the most about Mark Hatfield was his willingness to stand up for what he believed in."

The son of a Methodist railroad blacksmith and a Baptist schoolteacher, Hatfield often said he saw government as a potential force for good, and public spending as its powerful instrument.

"As a young man I felt the call of public service and believed in the positive impact government can have on the lives of people," he said in announcing his retirement from the Senate in 1995. "Government service has allowed me to promote peace, protect human life, enhance education, safeguard our environment, improve the healthcare of Oregonians and guard the rights of individuals. I have dedicated my public life to these principles."

Aversion to war

Mark Odom Hatfield was born July 12, 1922, in the rural logging town of Dallas, Ore., and graduated from Willamette University in Salem in 1943. He joined the Navy and served as a landing craft officer during the World War II invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was one of the first U.S. troops to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Those "inhuman, shock-ridden" scenes, as he later described them, inspired a lifetime of activism against war and nuclear weapons. Hatfield returned from the war to obtain his master's degree in political science at Stanford University, then taught political science at his alma mater in Salem.

While dean of students at the private liberal arts college, which traces its historical roots to the United Methodist Church, Hatfield tells of having reached a crisis in his faith akin to the "born again" experience of many evangelicals, but which in his case was more rational than emotional.

If Jesus Christ is truly a divine savior, he reasoned during an intense moment of reflection, then the only possible response was to offer his entire life to that service.

"Define your own spiritual commitment," Hatfield wrote later in "Against the Grain: Reflections of a Rebel Republican," which he wrote in 2001 with Diane Solomon. "Energize your conscience. Use loving spirituality to infuse your personal, public and political acts. Take advantage of spiritual stewardship when dealing with political issues such as the environment, the needs of humans, the dangers of war."

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