A chronicle of Slade Gorton’s political life

Here’s one for your summer reading list, particularly if you’ve got a hankering for a political history of Washington since the late 1950s, with color provided by one of the state’s most enduring — and at times enigmatic — figures.

“Slade Gorton: A Half Century in Politics” is a biography that may reveal as much about this state as it does the complex man at the center of the story.

The former U.S. senator has been a fixture in public life since he joined the Legislature in 1959 as a scary-smart, moderate Republican pressing for government reform.

Hard work kept Gorton almost continually in elected office as a legislator, then state attorney general, and finally U.S. senator for 18 years. That ended in 2000 when he lost a bitter contest to Democrat Maria Cantwell. At the time, Gorton was said to have lost touch with evolving political sensibilities, particularly related to environmental protection and respect for Indian treaty rights.

The Gorton described in the book, written by state historian John C. Hughes, is nearly a dozen years distant from the corrosive atmosphere of political campaigns. He’s still scary-smart, still comes across as somebody at risk of being described as aloof. But the portrait of Gorton that emerges from Hughes’ careful reporting is of a life spent standing up for principle and pragmatism. It’s easy to see why there was a time when “Slade Gorton Works For Me” bumper stickers were as likely to be found on log trucks grumbling through timber towns as they were on luxury cars rolling down I-5.

Full disclosure: Hughes, former editor and publisher at The Daily World in Aberdeen, hired me to my first daily newspaper job. He’s one of my heroes. Regardless, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

It’s all in the details, many no doubt little remembered. Gorton at times was a maverick, long before a former Alaskan governor appropriated the label. In the early 1960s, he angered some in his own party by testifying in support of John Goldmark, a Democratic legislator and cattle rancher from Eastern Washington whose politics were so left of center that opponents branded him a communist sympathizer and hounded him from office.

Gorton later said he had expected to not only disagree with Goldmark on just about every political issue but also thought he wouldn’t like him very much.

Only part of the prediction proved true, Gorton said, “because it was from John Goldmark that I learned the most important political lesson of my entire life … That the character and the courage of the individual within our system counted for far more than anything else.”

“Slade Gorton: A Half Century in Politics” can be purchased or downloaded from the Secretary of State’s office. It also is available at Sno-Isle Regional Libraries and can be ordered for a fee as an e-book from Amazon.com.

More in Local News

Load up: Cheesecake Factory plans Lynnwood location

The chain restaurant is listed as a tenant in new development at Alderwood mall.

Sound Transit funding splits lawmakers trying to cut car tab fees

With the legislative session set to end March 8, pressure is building for action.

What to do when you get pulled over

Don’t forget to be considerate so officers will know you are not a threat to their safety.

Suspected drunk driver crash in Bothell sends two to hospital

The man suspected of causing the Saturday afternoon collision was not injured.

Water to be shut down for up to 2 days for about 100 homes

The city of Everett plans to disable one of four pipelines next week while crews work on the system.

Finalists for EdCC presidency holding campus meetings

A search committee reviewed 19 applicants and recommended three finalists to the Board of Trustees.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Everett coaches reaching out to teens about dating violence

Free training focuses on a known strength of coaches: Being positive role models.

Scattered power outages around region after gusty Saturday

Up to 2 inches of snow could fall in some lowland areas of Snohomish County, forecasters said.

Most Read