Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, offered these thoughts on the passing of former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.
Gorton, 92, died Wednesday at his daughter’s Clyde Hill home, following a long and storied career in Washington politics as a state representative, House Republican Leader, state attorney general, U.S. senator from Washington state and elder statesman of his party.
“Washington has lost a giant – a man who exemplified the very best in politics, and who inspired those of us who followed him into the public arena.
“Slade brought his keen intellect to every issue he dealt with, from the redistricting battles of the ‘60s to the effort that saved the Mariners in the ‘90s. He took on leadership roles when others shied away, and he found ways to strike compromises that could win broad support. Slade recognized that it’s not enough to be right on the issues. You also need to find a way to win, and the best way to do that is to convince the other team that it is in their interest to agree. He brought a practical vision to everything he approached, something that is sadly missing from many of our political debates today.
“Slade’s accomplishments were tremendous. 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. The role he played in the enormous redistricting battle of 1965 is a legend around the statehouse even today. Slade was an early leader on environmental issues, in a time before environmental debates became skewed by ideology and professional activism. As attorney general for 12 years, he presented oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court 14 times. I pity anyone who attempted to argue against him.
“In the U.S. Senate, if he was on your side, you couldn’t ask for a stronger ally, and if he wasn’t, you would never have a greater intellectual adversary. He distinguished himself on deficit reduction and education reform. Even after Slade’s retirement in 2000, he remained active in public life. He chaired the federal 9-11 Commission, which ultimately produced a clear and cogent report about the tragedy and its causes, and led to needed reforms in our national security apparatus. In the Legislature, he was our champion in the redistricting battle of 2011, and his advice was an important contribution to the decisions we made when we held the majority in the Senate. Continuing his service, Slade and I had a long meeting this January to talk through the upcoming 2021 redistricting process.
“What I think everyone will remember about Slade is his cerebral and thoughtful nature, his ability to recognize the political trends that would shape our state, and his willingness to capitalize on them. In his 1988 and 1994 campaigns for Senate, he recognized the growing divide between the prosperous Central Puget Sound area and the rest of the state – what many called the ‘Cascade Curtain.” Slade became the spokesman for the disenfranchised. He became the first candidate to win a statewide election while losing King County. He predicted the divide would grow, and history has certainly proven him right.
“We also can’t forget the Mariners. 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. And when the future of the team was in doubt in the early ‘90s, he worked to retain local ownership and helped convince the opinionmakers of this state that the issue was more than baseball. A winning 1995 season also had something to do with what happened, but if any one person can be credited with keeping the Mariners safe at home, Slade was the MVP. And whenever he and I were at games, he liked to intently follow the action – a true fan.
“Whenever Slade was around, you knew he was the smartest person in the room. And it’s going to seem a whole lot emptier with him gone.”