At last, at long, long last, we have reached the final installment of the All-Star Senate, looking at our last ten inductees. Our geographical focus this time is on the states bordering the Pacific Ocean, logically including Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Hawaii. If we are looking for common themes here, the first of them is the more recent flavor to my picks. None of these states entered the union prior to 1850, and every last senator chosen served in the 20th or 21st centuries. Despite being home to plenty of defense industries and air force bases, there is a curious mix of the hawkish (Scoop Jackson, Fong) with the dovish (Boxer, Morse, Hatfield). Having accomplished our Manifest Destiny to reach the Pacific Ocean, let us explore our All-Star Senators from this singular region.
California has always had something of a progressive streak in its character. One of only a handful of states to support Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 candidacy, California had a modest record of progressive politics. Yet, California was also the birthplace of modern conservatism, which as Lisa McGirr argues in her stellar monograph Suburban Warriors, the defense industries and service sectors in Orange County gave the impetus to conservative political stances. Lowering property taxes, cracking down on immigration, joining the John Birch Society, stymieing United Nations, driving homosexual teachers out of public schools…these were the bread-and-butter issues for the upper-middle-class denizens of this state. While the urban areas today lend themselves to easy Democratic victories, California has so far given America 3 Republican presidents– Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
91. Hiram Johnson (Republican, 1917-1945)
Hiram Johnson is an early progressive, but we should be cautious of using that term. Believing that business interests had too much control over political discourse, he made a name for himself by limiting the overreaching influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad as governor. By the time he made it to the Senate, he crossed party lines to support New Deal initiatives, yet he was a profound isolationist, eager to keep America out of world affairs so that it might better cultivate its own garden at home. Yet, there was a darker and more xenophobic side to his character; he was a known opponent of the state’s considerable Chinese and Japanese populations.
Moreover, Johnson earned a reputation for being something less than a team player. He grouchily agreed to be Teddy Roosevelt’s running mate in 1912 when he ran on the Bull Moose ticket, thus fracturing the party between its old-guard and progressive wings. Four years later, he famously snubbed Charles Evan Hughes, when Hughes was the Republicans’ presidential candidate, when they were staying at the same hotel. Refusing to get behind Hughes, the GOP lost California, and with it the election. In fact, I cannot think of anybody else in America who was single-handedly responsible for losing his party two presidential elections.
92. Barbara Boxer (Democrat, 1993-present)
In 2004, George W. Bush got the highest vote total in the nation, with John Kerry coming in a fairly close second. The third highest vote-getter was…Barbara Boxer, earning an easy re-election to the Senate in the nation’s most populous state, eclipsing even third-party candidates running for the presidency nationwide. Hated by conservatives and loved by liberals, she was one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of George W. Bush during his presidency, and has taken up a myriad of causes that reliably fall left of center.
She has been a staunch opponent of drilling in the arctic, and one of the Senate’s foremost environmentalists. She has defended women’s rights consistently, becoming visibly irate when all-male committees took up women’s issues during her early years as a senator. Through this– speaking out, challenging convention, drawing attention to issues, has been Boxer’s calling card, rather than senatorial courtesy or cloakroom intrigue. As befits her last name, Boxer has been a stalwart fighter for the causes dear to her heart. If you ask a diehard conservative to describe a liberal, they might use words like “shrill”, “peacenik”, “women’s libber”, “bleeding heart.” There’s lots of left-leaning people on this list, but none of them fit their opponents’ stereotypes as Boxer does. And she has never apologized for it.
Runners-up: There have been quite a few interesting California senators, including William Knowland, Alan Cranston, and William McAdoo.
The gem of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s rainy environs may induce depression, but for whatever reason, it also produces uncommonly fine politicians. Truly– I cannot think of a single Oregonian office-holder who I find disagreeable. Home of sensible workhorse liberals and thoughtful, articulate conservatives, I present here two of Oregon’s finest.
93. Wayne Morse (Republican, Independent, Democrat, 1945-1969)
Morse, as a young man, idolized Robert LaFollette, and became a progressive Republican like his boyhood hero. As one political scientist determined a while back, Morse racked up the most consistently liberal voting record in the Senate in the postwar era. In this era of political flux, this meant that he often felt politically homeless, calling himself “the loneliest man in Washington.” As progressive Republicans died off, he became an unhappy independent, and finally caucused with the Democrats midway through the Eisenhower administration.
A champion of labor, Morse was horrified by the Taft-Hartley Act, which stymied the expansion of labor unions. Civil rights and environmental legislation also caught his attention, once conducting a 22-hour filibuster on his own to prevent an expansion of oil drilling in Oregon. But Morse’s single greatest act of courage was joining Alaska’s Ernest Gruening as one of only two votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which more or less gave LBJ a blank check in Vietnam without a formal declaration of war. Even future war opponents– George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and so on, voted for the resolution– Morse’s act was one of profound foresight and wisdom.
94. Mark O. Hatfield (Republican, 1967-1997)
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so if you would like to know my take on Hatfield’s career, let me refer to the memorial I wrote for him when he died last summer. I’ll limit my own summary here to this: Hatfield was a conscientious and thoughtful evangelical Christian in American politics, who carefully carved out his own path, rather than tethering himself to the Moral Majority, the National Council of Churches, or any other organization anywhere on the political spectrum. Following his own conscience, he opposed abortion, spoke out against the Vietnam War, and single-handedly prevented a balanced budget amendment that looked good on paper, but would have wrecked havoc with a thousand unintended consequences if put through.
Runner-up: One of the Senate’s agricultural gurus for decades, Charles McNary was also important, but I could not think of a single interesting thing to say about him. While a loathsome sexual predator, Robert Packwood was one of the first pro-choice advocates in the Senate, and a proponent of women’s athletics and Title IX.
Washington started out populist, then progressive, then radical, boasting one of the nations highest rates of Wobblies, or members of the Industrial Workers of the World. In time, Washington solidified into a reliable blue state, but one with a unique twist. To wit, Washington is extremely hawkish, due partly to the defense-related industries that are headquartered there.
95. Warren Magnuson (Democrat, 1944-1981)
Magnuson was admired and well-liked by many of his peers in Washington. Eugene McCarthy called him the “most loved man in the Senate.” Like others on this list, though, his state returned him to the Senate over and over again because he brought home the proverbial bacon. He was chair of the very powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for a large chunk of the 1970s, giving him the ability to steer massive amounts of money to projects in Washington state. Walter Mondale once jibbed, “he was scrupulously fair with federal funds, one half for Washington state, the other half for the rest of the country.” His contributions in the field of law include legislation on consumer warranties and repealing the god-awful Chinese Exclusion Acts still on record from their 1920s revival. He also ushered through laws providing for the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute. Magnuson did not hold grudges, worked well with his colleagues, and never sought headlines or cabinet posts or the vice-presidency. He was glad to be a senator, and never aspired to anything else.
96. Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson (Democrat,1953-1983)
Henry Jackson was, in some respects, the consummate 1960s Cold Warrior. Jackson was an ardent supporter of civil rights, and he was one of the first key environmentalists in the Senate, sharing that distinction with Gaylord Nelson and Ed Muskie, both whom of narrowly missed the cut for the All-Star Senate. To this effect, John Kennedy almost chose him as a running mate. (Incidentally, this probably would have worked– Jackson could have helped him carry Washington and probably California, compensating for the loss of Texas without LBJ.) Scoop Jackson, though, is most well-known for his hawkishness, his desire to win the Cold War, not play it out to a draw. He was rightly criticized as the “Senator from Boeing,” but Jackson also had a blue-collar belligerence that informed his views beyond his state’s immediate financial stake in producing planes, weapons, and computering gizmos. To that effect, Jackson had a legendary Senate staff that influenced his views on this issue. Not surprisingly, many of these figures were the forebears of the modern neo-conservative movement, wishing to project American power and democracy abroad, while bearing a degree of social liberality. Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Dorothy Fosdick were all, to some extent or other, Scoop Jackson’s staffers or allies. In a way, Jackson is the godfather of the Iraq War, despite dropping dead of a heart attack 20 years before it began. For those more familiar with today’s politics, think of him as the Joe Lieberman of his day– at odds with the liberal wing of his party, socially progressive, and incurably addicted to war.
Ironically, when Alaska and Hawaii entered the union, Congress agreed to it out of a misplaced sense of balance. Everyone thought that one state would be Republican, the other Democratic, but they got it the wrong way around. Alaska, a Democratic stronghold as a territory, quickly turned Republican as the oil industry gained clout in the state, while Hawaii’s heavily-Japanese population forgave the Democrats the whole “FDR put us into prison camps” misunderstanding. Alaskan politics is peerless in its corrupt and sweetheart deals; when my parents vacationed there, they brought me a set of playing cards documenting 52 Alaskan outlaws and criminals– a great many of which held public office.
97. Ted Stevens (Republican, 1968-2009)
Stevens became one of the longest serving senators ever, racking up over 40 years in office. One of the last 1960s senators to leave, he held fast to the old senatorial courtesies and decencies of days past, even while he could be irascible and ornery when the mood struck him. Most famously, he wore an Incredible Hulk tie when speaking on an issue particularly close to his heart. Like many senators on this list, he singlemindedly went after federal dollars to his state, and he held a crucial seat on the Appropriations Committee which led to pipelines, infrastructure aid, and puzzling vanity pieces like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. Although blogs and tumbler accounts pilloried Stevens for his puzzling claim that the internet was “a series of tubes,” it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter for his career.
Ted Stevens was, to be frank, corrupt. I have avoided using that word to describe very many senators on this list, but its hard to overlook the insider trading, kickbacks and company-bought houses that placed Stevens in disrepute in his home state. His desire to enrich himself through his voting choices became excessive even by the lax standards of the Last Frontier. He lost his 2008 bid for re-election to Anchorage mayor Mark Begich in a year where 4 different guys named Mark entered the Senate. It was a close race, but it would have been a blowout had not Alaskan turnout been bolstered by a certain governor of theirs on the presidential ticket. Stevens did not live to enjoy retirement very long; a weather-related plane crash took his life within a couple years of his leaving office.
98. Mike Gravel (Democrat, 1969-1981)
When an interviewer asked Barack Obama what was the most surreal element of running for president, the young senator pondered the question for a moment, and finally responded that it was looking over his shoulder and seeing Mike Gravel at the debates. Gravel was barely elected to the Senate in 1968, beating out antiwar old-timer Ernest Gruening, and winning an easy re-election in the post-Watergate landslide of 1974. In his twelve years, Gravel was never taken entirely seriously as a senator. Slightly cracked and messed up in the head, Gravel nonetheless committed one of the greatest acts of courage in the Senate’s history. He published the Pentagon Papers, a series of controversial and classified documents which damningly recorded how the public had been lied to by the Johnson administration, and outlining how the war had been illegally expanded into Laos and Cambodia. This ensured that the public would be made aware of these sundry criminal activities, and would be enshrined for all time in the Congressional Record. While Gravel may be remembered as the cranky old guy spouting incoherencies throughout the 2008 Democratic debates, we should remember him instead for this singular act.
Don’t make the mistake of writing off Hawaii as a set of small, sparsely inhabited islands. This small state has enough people packed into it to amply cover two congressional districts, and it has a bustling metropolis in Honolulu. Yet, it tends to have long-tenured senators; only 5 or 6 different guys, total, have represented the state since it entered the union.
99. Hiram Fong (Republican, 1959-1977)
One of the first two men Hawaii sent to the Senate, Fong also earned a place in history as the first Asian-American senator. While in the Senate, he supported civil rights and immigration reform. As they stood prior to 1965, the law kept a strict quota on Asian immigration, which Fong worked hard to overturn. In this capacity, he also sought the presidency, being a favorite son of his some state in the 1964 and 1968 presidential primaries. A loyal Republican, Fong remained supportive of Nixon’s actions during the war, long after most congressmen had voiced opposition. Even during Watergate, Fong stood by his president.
100. Daniel Inouye (Democrat, 1963-present)
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that Daniel Inouye is not a household name. Every man, woman and child in the country should know who this man is. While his immediate family faced the wanton civil liberties violations many Japanese-Americans endured, Inouye volunteered to serve in the European theatre of the war. He lost part of an arm in that conflict, and his platoon insists that he literally single-handedly killed 25 Germans in combat. If you google “Daniel Inouye badass”, 35,000 search results come in. I’m not kidding. Inouye went on to a fabulous career in Hawaii politics, and has represented the state, either in the House or in the Senate, since it entered the union, a period of time spanning over 50 years now. This makes him the second-longest serving senator of all time. He is one of only 16 U.S. senators from the 1960s still alive, and the only one still serving in the Senate, its last office-holding link to a nobler time.