The death of former Sen. Mark Hatfield on Sunday stirred up memories of his lonely stance against the balanced budget amendment on Capitol Hill.
Hatfield, 89, spent 30 years in the Senate as a Republican representing Oregon. A World War II veteran who had seen the devastation of the nuclear bomb, he was a staunch pacifist who voted against war.
But it was his decisive vote against a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget that was recalled the most this week, as Congress considers a second attempt.
In 1995, shortly after he became chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee once more, Hatfield found himself at odds with his colleagues. The House had just passed the balanced budget amendment and had sent it to the Senate. Two weeks before the vote went down, Hatfield announced he wouldn’t vote for the amendment. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) wasn’t worried, said Keith Kennedy, a former Hatfield staffer who worked for the Senator for 24 years. Dole figured he had enough votes on the Democratic side for it.
But as the vote drew closer, it soon became clear there wouldn’t be enough support from the Democrats. Hatfield was pressured to change his mind.
In the end, he was the only Republican and the deciding vote against the amendment. Had he voted for it, the amendment would have then gone to the states for passage.
“It was one of the most courageous votes I’ve ever seen,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie said. “He knew he was sacrificing his chairmanship [of the Senate Appropriations Committee] and his position as Senator. He couldn’t bring himself to vote for it.”
Hatfield was born on July 12, 1922, in Dallas, Ore. He graduated from Willamette University in 1943. He suffered his only election loss at his alma mater, when he ran for student body president.
Shortly afterward, he joined the Navy. He saw the destruction in Hiroshima after the United States dropped the atomic bomb, making him into a pacifist and shaping his future policy decisions.
Hatfield earned a master’s degree in political science from Stanford before returning to Willamette as a political science professor.
He first ran for political office in 1951, winning a seat in the state House of Representatives. This began a slew of political successes, as he later became a state Senator, the Oregon Secretary of State and, finally, governor. He beat then-Rep. Robert Duncan (D-Ore.) in the 1966 Senate election.
In the Senate’s oral history, Kennedy noted the first time he met Hatfield. While waiting for placement in an internship program, Kennedy had one request: “No Republicans.”
Despite the request, he was set up with Hatfield, with whom he would end up working for several years, eventually as majority staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee.