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We Sure Could Use More Like Him Now

Former Republican Senator Mark Hatfield from Oregon died yesterday.  I didn't know him well, but I did work with him in the mid-1990s when I was Senator Kennedy's Deputy Staff Director and General Counsel for what was then called the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee (now called the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, i.e., HELP).  

Sen. Hatfield was on the Committee.  He was one of the most gracious, thoughtful and earnest members of the Senate when I knew him.  I did two tours as a Senate staffer, one in the mid-1990s for Senator Kennedy and one more recently from 2003 to 2010.  As the politics and rhetoric degraded over those years and became harsher and the ties across the political parties became more and more frayed if not completely broken, Sen. Hatfield is one of the many Senators I'd think of who knew how to be principled and still get things done; who knew how to fight doggedly for his beliefs and still work with political opponents; and, who always remembered his party, principles, beliefs and issues, but never forgot that the best interests of the country always came first.  

I remember in late September/early October 1996, when the Senate was rushing to get out of session and to the campaign trail.  Not only was one-third of the Senate up for re-election, but it was also a Presidential election year and President Clinton was battling for re-election against recently retired Sen. Dole.  Although the Senate was wrapping up and many members had more than one foot out the door, Sen. Hatfield, who was retiring and not returning, was burning the midnight oil working on the many things he cared about.  

He didn't delegate his priorities to staff.  He worked those issues himself.  Sen. Kennedy asked me to work with Sen. Hatfield to see if we could clear some of his bills before he left and before the Senate went out of session.  Given the highly charged politics at the time (remember the Republicans took the majority in the House in 1994 for the first time in 40 years and they were trying hard to keep that majority in the 1996 elections), these efforts were long shots at best, but we worked deep into the night in his office trying to reach consensus on a bill or amendment and then tried to get them cleared on both sides.  

I have no recollection of whether he had any success in those closing days of the 104th Congress.  What I remember is a man dedicated to issues he cared deeply about, working doggedly to get Republicans and Democrats to agree, and committed to making the lives of people better.  We would all be better off if we had more Sen. Hatfields today.  


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