Former U.S. Senator and Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton died at home today. He was 92. Born and raised in Chicago, Gorton graduated from Dartmouth College, and Columbia University Law School. He served in both the U.S. Army and in the U.S. Air Force reserve attaining the rank of Colonel. In 1958, Gorton married Sally Clark of Selah. Slade and Sally had three children, Sarah, Rebecca and Thomas, and were married until Sally’s death in 2013.
Gorton never retired, and was seen frequently in his Bellevue-area neighborhood during his daily walks with his dog, Trip.
A Republican, Gorton served in public office for 40 years including in the Washington State House of Representatives 1959-1969; as Washington State Attorney General 1969-1981; as United States Senator 1981-87, 1989-2001. Gorton served as a member of the 9/11 Commission 2003-2004 and the Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2011. VoteMatch called him a “Moderate Libertarian Conservative.”
Statement from Former Governor and U.S. Senator Daniel J. Evans
Family friend, former three-term Washington Governor, and U.S. Senator Daniel J. Evans summarized Gorton’s public career with the following statement:
“The State of Washington has lost a great public servant.”
“Slade Gorton was a friend and colleague of Nancy’s and mine for the past 65 years. He was a brilliant State Representative who led a sensationally successful redistricting effort in Washington State.
“As Attorney General he opened the doors of opportunity for women and built a strong bipartisan staff who represented our state with vigor, honesty, and distinction.
“After 18 effective and productive years in the United States Senate, Slade served as a leading member of the national 9/11 Commission.
“The report on proposed actions as a result of the attack on New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001 was a classic. The commission’s work was widely praised and Slade’s contribution to its report was especially recognized.
“Slade Gorton led a career of extraordinary distinction and we will deeply miss his voice of reason, expressed clearly, forcefully, and honestly.”
Peggy Noonan Column — “A good man gets his due”
After losing his 2000 re-electon bid by just over 2,000 votes, Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan, wrote a tribute piece for Gorton that summarized his career in the U.S. Senate with these words:
WSJ, Dec 8. 2000
“The Senate stopped in its tracks to honor and mark the departure of Slade Gorton, the Republican member from Washington state whose defeat by 2,229 votes last week erased the Republicans’ clear Senate majority.
Politicians of course like to honor people. There’s no downside to being moving and eloquent about a friend, or a foe, especially a vanquished one. There’s usually no price to pay for being generous. And you can use the formal honoring of another to honor yourself: If it weren’t for his constant encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to pass the major legislation I’ve authored and shepherded lo these many years . . .
But this was different. It was personal and passionate and bipartisan. Democrats stood to honor him, with moving words from Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Democrat Patty Murray, soon to be Washington state’s senior senator, spoke, and a letter from Joe Lieberman was read, praising among other things Mr. Gorton’s bipartisanship during President Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Over and over Thursday the speakers spoke about two things. Because Mr. Gorton was wise and calm and highly intelligent, he was listened to. And because he wasn’t a showboat, he was respected. He wouldn’t just pop off with a statement and hope to get credit for it. He was the last to run for the microphones, though he wasn’t above noticing who did. He spoke on the floor less often than some other senators; he spoke in private councils. He probably authored fewer bills, but shaped more law through advice and addendum.
In all of the praise you could hear the sound of an institution defining itself, showing through what it said what it values and honors.
I think it was saying this: In the clamor of big egos bumping into daily events that is Congress, we do notice who gets things done, who really works. Who really thinks, who contributes, who has a long-term historical view, who is a patriot, who doesn’t care who gets credit, who will quietly counsel and help you with your problem and not capitalize on it or use it against you, who stands not only for the party but the country and not only for the job but for the institution—the Senate, this august chamber, which can actually make a difference in people’s lives, and which is a strong and necessary element in our republic.
It is good when politicians define an ideal. It is good when they say they believe they’ve seen it, or something like it.”
Noonan, upon hearing of Gorton’s passing, said,
“Slade was a wonderful man. For him politics really was “public service,” which meant serving the public, to which he gave his all. He worked hard, with both sophistication and idealism, and he absolutely loved the United States of America. What a deeply constructive and productive life.”