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Everett lives in Scoop Jackson's shadow

25 years after his death, senator's legacy lives on

  • Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson on April 5, 1980.

    Herald file photo

    Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson on April 5, 1980.

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By Jerry Cornfield, Herald Writer
  • Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson on April 5, 1980.

    Herald file photo

    Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson on April 5, 1980.

EVERETT -- A world map tacked to a wall in his Senate office gave Scoop Jackson a means of tracking shifting alliances and emerging conflicts around the globe.
Oddly, or purposely, former staff members recall the layout of the map had the state of Washington and the city of Everett about in the middle, where Jackson never lost sight of them.
Everett is the emotional epicenter for the memories and legacy of Henry Martin "Scoop" Jackson, one of its most famous native sons, who rose to become one of the most influential voices in the U.S. Senate at the time of his unexpected death a quarter century ago.
"What made his life in Washington, D.C., real was his grounding here in Snohomish County," said Seth Dawson, a former county prosecuting attorney.
Jackson, an ordinary, hardworking guy of unquestioned integrity, stitched together a complex legacy in 42 years in Congress.
His uniquely sculpted political persona guided him to the philosophical right of his Democratic Party on foreign affairs, to the left of it on many domestic matters and smack into the center of the most difficult issues confronted in Congress.
It is marked by his evolution from backing internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II to making human rights protection a condition of winning trade benefits from the U.S.
It is measured by his pioneering legislation protecting the environment and creating wilderness areas, and an unbending anti-communism, credited for helping end the Cold War.
It is kept alive by his widow, his family and former employees who went into public service, and by proteges who went on to advise presidents.
"The things he did, he didn't do for publicity or attention. He did what he thought was right and he did it with courage," said Ed Hansen, a legislative aide to Jackson in the mid-60s who would later serve as mayor of Everett.
Ray Stephanson, Everett's current mayor, met Jackson in 1981 while running for City Council.
"For Everett, Washington state, the nation, in my view he set the gold standard for how public servants should lead in the public life," he said.
Jackson died the evening of Sept. 1, 1983, at what is now Providence Everett Medical Center in Everett, the start of the ninth month of his 42nd year in Congress and what was to be his sixth and final term in the U.S. Senate.
He succumbed hours after holding a news conference to denounce the Soviet Union for shooting down a Korean commercial plane, killing all 269 people on board.
At a news conference, he called it a "dastardly, barbaric act against humanity" and discussed possible responses in Congress and with President Ronald Reagan.
Hours later at his home, Jackson suffered a ruptured aorta.
Henry Martin Jackson was born in May 1912 in Everett. Growing up he attended public schools and worked as a paper boy for The Herald, making deliveries along a route that included family homes, houses of ill repute and speakeasies.
He picked up his nickname, "Scoop," from his sister Gertrude because she found her brother had a penchant for causing mischief and getting others to do his work for him, much like a cub reporter named Scoop featured in a comic strip at the time.
A University of Washington Law School graduate, at just 26 he was elected Snohomish County prosecuting attorney in 1938. Two years later, he won a seat in the House of Representatives and held it through five ensuing elections.
In 1952, he unseated incumbent Republican Sen. Harry Cain, launching the Senate career that would last until his death.
Sen. John F. Kennedy wanted Jackson as a running mate in 1960 but strategy led him to instead choose Texas Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson to help garner votes in Southern states.
Jackson ran for president twice, in 1972 and 1976. Each time a combination of things sank his efforts: his support of the Vietnam War, which doomed him with the party's left wing; a shortage of cash, which hampered a national campaign; and a lack of charisma.
In the Senate, Jackson joined fellow Democrat Warren Magnuson in what became arguably the most powerful duo to ever represent this state in the Senate.
Google the name of Henry M. Jackson and you'll find a nuclear submarine and a federal office building in Seattle that bear his name.
The University of Washington renamed its School of International Studies in his honor, as did the Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine in Maryland, a private, nonprofit organization set up under legislation authored by Jackson.
Congress designated 100,000-plus acres in the Cascade Mountains of eastern Snohomish County as the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, and there's a visitors center carrying his name at Mount Rainier.
And in 2005 in the United Kingdom, a group of political conservatives set up the Henry Jackson Society.
"It's not where you're from but the ideas that you represent that are important," said founder Alan Mendoza, who was a child when Jackson died.
"He was the international statesman of the past half century who best personified what we believed was important in the framing of foreign policy research: a steadfast commitment to a robust international security policy, viewed through the prism of democracy and human rights and carried out in a bipartisan manner."
Undoubtedly the most significant effort at carrying forth Jackson's vision is the Seattle-based Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
His widow, Helen, and his friends parlayed $600,000 in unspent money from Jackson's 1982 campaign into its launch. Nearly $10 million in federal money has arrived over the years, providing financial stability and an endowment.
Each year, about a million dollars is doled out to encourage research and education in the areas of international affairs, human rights, environment and public service. More than $10 million has gone to the University of Washington.
To mark the anniversary of Jackson's death, the foundation has produced a booklet on political leadership. It also will hold a major fundraising event in Washington, D.C., next month.
"The major purpose is to provide a discussion of the qualities of leadership people should expect and want. He had such qualities," said Bill Van Ness, a board member, a close friend and counsel to Jackson on the Senate Interior Committee.
"He had this credibility. He was always honest and his work was always good and therefore people looked to him to see what he would do on an issue or on a vote," he said.
Ask those who knew Scoop best what they consider his legacy and they won't reel off legislation he wrote or positions he took. They won't lead off with the memorable hearings when he stood up to Sen. Joe McCarthy and stared down oil company executives.
"The amazing thing about Scoop is the concern he had for people that led him to spend a great deal of time on small issues," said Richard Perle, a foreign policy expert who worked for Jackson from 1969 to 1980 and then as an assistant secretary of defense for President Reagan. Perle also advised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
Tom Dixon, an aide on Jackson's 1972 campaign and later chief of staff for the Snohomish County Council, said Scoop is most remembered "for the way he related to people. He really loved the people of Washington state and he had a deep love for public service."
Eventually they'll tell you the story of individuals such as Seth Dawson.
For years, members of Congress could earn honorariums for speeches and not report what they made or how they spent it.
Jackson never kept his money. He gave it away quietly and, for a time, anonymously, as scholarships to college-bound students such as Dawson.
For Dawson, an Everett High School graduate, it helped pay the costs of attending the University of Washington. He never knew the source of the money until after Jackson's death.
"The donor just wanted a letter from time to time on our progress. I do recall sending at least one. I certainly wish I had done more," said Dawson, who later served three terms as Snohomish County prosecutor and is now a lobbyist for 18 family service organizations.
After the law changed to require that honorariums be tracked, Jackson funneled the money into a scholarship fund he set up in the name of his sister, Gertrude, a teacher. Scholarships continue to be awarded annually from the fund.
A bust of Jackson is prominently displayed in an alcove of the Russell Senate Office building. A few strides from the U.S. Senate chamber is a phone booth and above it a plate bearing Scoop Jackson's name.
These are visual reminders to Washington's current senators. Neither Sen. Patty Murray nor Sen. Maria Cantwell had launched their political careers at the time of Jackson's death in 1983.
Murray, who is in her third term, was a preschool teacher who won a seat on the Shoreline School Board in 1984, a year after Jackson's death. Cantwell, who is her first term, attended college in Ohio but in 1983 moved back to Washington to work on the presidential campaign of Alan Cranston.
Though she never met him, Cantwell sits at the same desk Scoop sat at.
"To me it was a great honor to sit at his desk and think about all of the contributions he made to the state and the nation," she said.
Throughout his career, Jackson's positions on some controversial issues evolved.
In 1942, Jackson's first term in the House of Representatives, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order requiring internment of Japanese-Americans.
Jackson, like the vast majority in Congress, endorsed the order. Over time he came to regret his position.
"He was contrite and atoned as best he could, supporting reparations for internees," recalled his son, Peter.
Jackson's attitude on federal treatment of American Indians also changed.
In 1953, he supported a new federal law aimed at assimilating American Indians by allowing states to assume jurisdiction of existing Indian reservation lands.
Years later he would come to oppose this so-called "termination policy."
His change came from a friendship with Forrest Gerard of the Blackfoot tribe, a staff member who became an assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the Department of Interior.
They worked on an array of new laws concerning Native Americans. These included the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in 1976, making it federal policy to improve the health and well-being of American Indians. Another law ensured tribal participation in decision-making on education and other federal programs serving tribal members.
It is in the arenas of foreign policy and the environment where actions he took reverberate loudest.
"He was extraordinarily prescient," said Perle, a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.
"From my point of view, he made a huge contribution to the successful conclusion of the Cold War," he said. "The fact that it ended with a Western victory and we avoided a potential conflict is due to his leadership in the Senate and his relationship with presidents."
Jackson supported the Vietnam War and opposed detente with the Soviet Union, a country he considered the greatest threat to the national security of the U.S.
In 1974, Jackson took on the Soviet Union, which was barring emigration of Jews to Israel while seeking most-favored-nation status as a trading partner with the U.S.
He and Rep. Charles Vanik, D-Ohio, pushed an amendment denying most-favored-nation status to any country that erected barriers to emigration. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment became law in 1975, leading the Soviet Union to change its policies and opening the doors for millions of Jews to immigrate to Israel. There's a Henry M. Jackson square dedicated to the senator in Jerusalem to mark his effort.
"He was the only one with the moral clarity and vision to see the evil of the Soviet Union. His most towering achievement was bringing human rights to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy," said Lara Iglitzin, executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
Peter Beinart, a senior fellow of the Council of Foreign Relations, said Jackson's legacy may be his image as a "godfather" of neo-conservatism.
Former Jackson staffer Perle and adviser Paul Wolfowitz are widely known as contributing architects to President Bush's foreign policy, including decisions leading up to the war in Iraq.
"He's had a very important impact because some of his proteges have proven to be very influential in American politics," Beinart said.
On the environmental front, the National Environmental Protection Act locked in place a process for preparing comprehensive reports examining potential effects of development before a spade of dirt is turned. President Nixon signed it Jan. 1, 1970, the first law of the new decade.
Peter Jackson, the senator's son, called it his "crowning achievement" because more than 100 countries have relied on it in adopting versions of their own.
Six years earlier, Jackson guided the landmark Wilderness Act into law. It's been the vehicle for placing strict restrictions on uses on hundreds of thousands of publicly owned acres, including this year's creation of Wild Sky Wilderness east of Index.
"The environmental leadership he showed is so visible here in the state," said Dan Evans, the former governor who was appointed to fill the Senate seat after Jackson died.
Van Ness, who helped write the bills, said his friend "wasn't about preservation for preservation sake."
He wanted to be sure those living in cities and those facing physical and economic challenges had easy and affordable access to public lands managed with their tax dollars, Van Ness said.
"He was always staking out that little common sense position," he said.
If there's an underappreciated aspect of Jackson's legacy, those who know him well say it was his ability to construct majorities in the Senate on divisive issues.
"If Scoop put his mind to it, he could gather a prodigious number of votes and presidents had to deal with it," Perle said.
"He really was a unifying figure," he said. "I can't tell you how many times in the last 25 years, in the middle of a bit of heated partisanship, someone has said, 'Where is Scoop when we need him?'"
Such power extended into the county's geopolitics, too -- even after his death, as Paul Elvig learned.
Elvig ran the Whatcom County Republican Party from 1956 to 1991 and then moved south and took charge of Snohomish County's GOP operation.
The senator's larger-than-life personality -- he dubbed it the "Jackson influence" -- made organizing and fundraising difficult.
"He wasn't that much of an impact up there. There was no sense that he was our boy," he said. "I felt he was haunting my attempts at being a party chair in Snohomish County."
If there is an overblown element of his importance, it is the notion of "Jackson Democrats."
Peter Jackson said the term popped up in the '70s.
"People started saying 'I'm a Scoop Jackson Democrat' and he hated that," he said. "He'd say, 'There's no such thing as a Scoop Jackson Democrat.' I'm just a Democrat."
Many of those Democrats moved to the Republican Party when Reagan became president.
"There's a whole group of conservatives out there who see him as the embodiment of the Democratic Party they knew" and wish remained, Beinart said.
Perle echoed the sentiment.
"Scoop was a traditional Democrat and the party changed," he said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or
Story tags » Everett

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