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An Oregon senator.

Byline: The Register-Guard

While Mark Hatfield never lost an election, many doubt he could succeed in politics today: The modern Republican Party would not comfortably accommodate his anti-militarism, and he'd fail the Democratic Party's social-issue litmus tests.

But that judgment sells Oregon voters short. The most admired figures in the state's public life continue to be those who have placed principle above all else. Hatfield, who died Sunday at age 89, was among them.

Hatfield was the most successful politician in Oregon history - state legislator, secretary of state, two-term governor, five-term U.S. senator - and he could not have achieved such a record without ambition and an ability to sense opportunity. He played the grubby game of politics with talent and enthusiasm, using his position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that his state received a steady flow of education and research dollars. The many Mark O. Hatfield buildings and landmarks scattered around Oregon testify to the senator's practical skills.

Yet Oregonians didn't elect Hatfield for his deal-making ability - at least, not at first. They elected him again and again because he had a core of conviction. It flowed from two sources: his Christian faith, and his experience as a serviceman who witnessed the effects of an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

Hatfield was a religious man without religiosity, and an anti-militarist without pacifism. He tried to live his faith without imposing it on others; he opposed most defense spending but supported war when he felt it was necessary. He was no absolutist, but he held to absolutes. That may be the key to Hatfield's success: People saw that there was something in him that could not be bought, and that he was willing to stand alone when it mattered. Voters or colleagues responded to such a recognition with respect and trust, even if they disagreed with Hatfield on the issue of the moment.

Hatfield had his failures, blind spots and shortcomings - people called him "Saint Mark" only with sarcastic intent. He landed in serious trouble a couple of times for accepting favors or gifts from people for whom he was in a position to grant political favors. His instinct for reconciliation failed to produce a settlement in the still-running conflict over management of Oregon's federal forests. His support for federal projects in Oregon led him to champion some wasteful ones, such as the Elk Creek Dam on the Rogue River.

But Hatfield's achievements, ranging from the Marine Science Center in Newport to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, have transformed Oregon. And he's given a phrase to the state's political lexicon: the "Hatfield Republican," meaning one who is principled, pragmatic and open-minded. If voters see another like him, they'll respond.
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Title Annotation:Editorials and Letters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Aug 9, 2011
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