Mark Hatfield was an Oregon statesman who requires no statue to be erected in his honor. That's because his legacy can already be found in so many physical locations around this state.
Hatfield's death on Sunday has been followed by a cascade of appropriate tributes for the former governor and longtime U.S. senator. He is remembered for being the conscience of Oregon, and indeed, at times, the nation. He also is revered for the important buildings and structures that bear his imprint - and for the buildings that didn't arise because he had the foresight to secure federal protection for a place so stunning as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
People praise Hatfield for his principles and his willingness to stand by his convictions, but those traits would not have brought him such high esteem if not for his effectiveness as a senator. Hatfield accomplished an unprecedented amount for his state because he exemplified rare leadership qualities.
Though Hatfield certainly had his imperfections, politicians of today would do well to emulate the characteristics that led him to success, including these:
• He displayed an uncanny ability to move people away from polarized positions - away from simply saying 'no' - toward solutions that involved all parties saying yes to a compromise. In his time (Hatfield left the Senate in 1997), Oregon struggled with many contentious issues related to timber and other natural resources. But Hatfield had the credibility to provide a bridge between opposing camps and to find a path toward accommodation.
• Hatfield had a clear understanding that federal dollars shouldn't simply be parceled out as pork or political payoffs, but instead should be invested in purposeful ways for the betterment of the state's economy. Thus, Hatfield directed funding toward transportation, toward ports and locks on the Columbia River, toward research and buildings at Oregon Health and Science University and toward a marine science center on the Oregon Coast. These investments have aided, and will continue to aid, tens of thousands of sustainable and well-paying jobs in this state.
• Hatfield maintained a civility with peers and constituents that is no longer in fashion today but was a key factor in his effectiveness in Congress and his popularity at home.
It is true, as many have already stated, that Hatfield was a towering figure of a different era - a time when votes of conscience were still allowed and when adherence to the party line was not a requirement for being elected to office.
However, the admirable qualities that Hatfield demonstrated should not be seen as artifacts of a bygone day. They, instead, should be viewed as the basic elements of true leadership - something that is even rarer today than it was in Hatfield's time.