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Hatfield leaves a rich legacy

He maintained civility with peers and an ability to move people toward solutions.

Mark Hatfield's death last Sunday has been followed by a cascade of tributes for the former Oregon secretary of state, governor and longtime U.S. senator.

He is remembered for being the conscience of Oregon, and indeed, at times, the nation.

Hatfield also is revered for the important 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.

For example, in 1953, as a state representative, he crafted and passed a bill to ban discrimination of minorities in public places, long before federal laws offered such protection.

As an evangelical Christian, Hatfield opposed not only abortion, but also the death penalty. And despite his religious upbringing, he supported gay rights.

But Hatfield is best known for his cautions about war. A WWII Navy veteran, Hatfield was no pacifist, but his military experiences in both Japan and French Indonesia shaped his view as a politician.

He was an early critic of the Vietnam War, an outspoken opponent of our nuclear weapons buildup and, in 1990, one of only two Republican senators to oppose sending troops to the Gulf War.

Those stances would not have brought him such high esteem at home, however, if not for his effectiveness as a senator. Hatfield accomplished an unprecedented amount for his state because he exemplified rare leadership qualities.

He maintained a civility with peers and displayed an uncanny ability to move people away from polarized positions and toward solutions that involved all parties agreeing 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 political payoffs, but instead should be investments. Thus, Hatfield directed funding to transit, ports and locks on the Columbia River, research and buildings at Oregon Health and Science University and a marine science center on the Oregon Coast. These projects continue to aid tens of thousands of sustainable jobs in this state.

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.

Correction: a story detailing Hatfield's life wrongly stated he served in the Vietnam War. Hatfield's navy service was during World War II.


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