There was a time when major and useful legislation emerged from the U.S. Congress, and the two most influential politicians in Washington State history helped make it happen. Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson served together on the Democratic side of the aisle in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until Magnuson was defeated in 1980 and Jackson’s untimely death in 1983. Their accrued power resulted in a bonanza of benefits for Washington State. It is remarkable how these two men with such strikingly different personalities were able to maintain such a productive working relationship.
I came to know both Magnuson and Jackson in the late 1960s. I connected with Magnuson through my friendship with his top aide, Jerry Grinstein, and that led to assisting the senator on consumer protection and health legislation. I got to know Jackson through a surprise lunch invitation to my wife and me when we were visiting D.C. Afterwards I learned that Scoop, as he was called, regularly issued such invitations to random constituents visiting his office. I later assisted him with Native American health legislation and volunteered in his 1972 and 1976 presidential campaigns.
Despite the political power he possessed, I found that Magnuson, known as Maggie, was a shy individual who was uncomfortable with strangers. Gruffness and dominating conversations with stories were his ways of not having to exchange social chit-chat. And not having to say no to the constant requests that came his way. He was comfortable with close friends, children and animals. One afternoon, while watching football at the home of the Grinsteins, he got down on the floor and recited verses from Winnie the Pooh to our children.
Maggie was egalitarian to an extreme. Once when I was meeting him at O’Hare Airport on his way to address a medical convention, he jumped into the front seat next to the limousine driver while our greeting delegation lounged in the ample rear seat. Likewise he was not impressed by titles or authorities of any sort.
Though Magnuson had a bon-vivant’s social life for a while in the nation’s capital, by the time I met him he enjoyed evenings at home painting and reading history. I once asked him if he had read a new biography of Huey Long. He replied: “No. I never read about politics. It’s like seeing a rerun of a football game I’ve already watched.”
In contrast, Jackson reached out to shake any hand that came his way. Of a prototypical Norwegian heritage (matching Maggie’s Swedish roots), Scoop embraced hard work and frugality, driving an old Chevy, badly, and carefully counting his change. He rarely attended social events, and when he did, nursed a drink in his hand just to be polite. For many years Jackson gave all the money he earned outside of his salary, anonymously, to a fund managed by his sister that provided scholarships for schoolchildren in his hometown of Everett. This generosity came to light only after the Senate began requiring members to disclose details of their finances.
Jackson supporters are known for their unwavering loyalty, still speaking warmly of him 37 years after his death. Disagreement with his positions, especially regarding the Vietnam War and his hawkish views, did not diminish that affection.
Jackson and Magnuson each established a formidable legislative record. When it came to getting bills passed in Congress, these senators would put today’s Congress to shame. Thanks to their great seniority, they chaired powerful committees, and they knew how to work across the aisle and with presidents of either party. When bringing up a bill for a vote, the ranking Republican was always at Magnuson’s side. Former Senator Mondale once told me: “Maggie is the most popular member of the Senate. He never asks for my vote directly because he doesn’t want to embarrass me if I say no.”
I consider Magnuson’s most important achievement was securing Senate passage of the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that barred discrimination in hotels and restaurants. That section was the most bitterly fought-over component of the civil rights legislation. Because of Maggie’s aversion to the limelight he is not recognized in civil rights history for this magnificent feat.
In contrast, Jackson was guided by passionate beliefs. He was hugely popular in Washington State because he was genuinely friendly, exuded honesty, and “delivered the goods” for constituents. Jackson’s most significant legislative accomplishments include the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) “to encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment,” and the Jackson-Vanik Freedom of Emigration Act (1974) tying U.S. trade concessions to the Soviet Union to the lifting of emigration restrictions. The result was the emigration of 1 million Jews to Israel, and 500,000 Jews and other persecuted minorities to the United States.
Though they did not socialize together, and despite their different personalities, Maggie and Scoop worked well as partners. This was because each staked out his own turf. Maggie managed appropriations, commerce, and health; Jackson concentrated on national security, foreign affairs, and the environment. When they disagreed, they did so privately. For example, Magnuson was an early skeptic of the Vietnam war, but in deference to the hawkish Jackson, did not speak out publicly.
Neither Jackson nor Magnuson lobbied Jimmy Carter for jobs in his administration for their staff members. Jackson because he detested Carter (“I can’t stand people who wear religion on their sleeves.”), who had defeated him in the 1976 presidential primary, and Magnuson because he did not ask anyone for anything.
I considered Jackson the most capable of the contenders both in 1972 and 1976. But he had no business running for president. He could not simplify complex issues into sound bites, modify his strongly-held beliefs in order to win votes, raise money, or choose the right people to run his campaigns.
The quixotic nature of the campaign was illustrated in 1972 when I was among 44 volunteers who flew from Seattle to Wisconsin for five days of campaigning. Alighting in Milwaukee, we found there was no plan for our group, no assignments for individuals, no housing or transportation arrangements….no nothing! Instead our diverse group was instructed to fan out and spread the word to Wisconsin counterparts. There were plenty of laughs among us but no complaints. We were fiercely loyal to Scoop.
My loyalty was put to the test as a delegate to the 1976 Democratic convention. Because the outcome was known beforehand, it was the first national convention to be meaningless. The roll call of the states was significant only to delegates pushing forward in order to be seen on TV. Jackson, ceding the nomination, sent word for his delegates to vote for Carter. Hating false shows of unanimity, and wanting the true final tally to appear on the scoreboard, I balked. That is why the official record shows that Jackson received the vote of only one Washington State delegate. I asked Scoop the next day if he was mad. He laughed and said, “of course not.”
Though he was titular chairman of the campaign, Magnuson rightly thought that Jackson’s run for the presidency in 1976 was quixotic. He said to me, “Do you know it cost Scoop $10 for every vote he got in Pennsylvania?” “Did you tell him that, “ I asked. “Of course not,” he said. “If Scoop wants to run for president, I’m going to help him all I can.”
That is a perfect illustration of why the two men had such a productive partnership.
Brilliant. Captures two extraordinary men and and an era sadly long gone.
This is great, Abe! Really glad you wrote it. But you could have put your own achievements into this account, esp those with and for Magnuson.
I enjoyed reading this piece. It’s an encomium to a Washington DC (and WA State) of a different, more collegial and reserved, era. While I agree that the political culture of the world of Maggie and Scoop may have been better in many ways than our present-day shallow, tribal and hyperpartisan political culture, it seems to me important to acknowledge that it was worse in others — particularly in that it was narrow and exclusive on questions of race and gender.
Thanks for the comments. Ric, I believe your former boss, Jerry Grinstein, decreed to his staff, “call him Senator, never Maggie,” and always remain invisible.. A longer version of this article contained a story about a Magnuson staff member in high dudgeon about some sleight by a Scoop’s staff member. And giving Magnuson a letter to sign that he had drafted to Scoop expressing his dismay. With Magnuson tearing up the letter saying, “I don’t have to write letters to Scoop; I see him every day.” The Magnuson staff member, of course, was Eric Redman. And to my fellow Reedie, Sandeep, I did not intend to imply that the Maggie-Scoop era was a golden age in American politics.There never was such a time. There were other historical injustices that only later gained attention, though even now, insufficiently.
Thanks for the memories, Abe. These two towered over their peers in a time when keeping your word made giants. Scoop was loyal to his Party even when we split from him over Viet Nam. But some of Maggie’s best lessons were how to avoid giving your word when you knew you couldn’t keep it. Techniques I used to get my current wife.
Good article, Abe. Sorry that you didn’t have room for some of the great things that Scoop and Maggie did for us locally. Think of Maggie’s generosity to the UW School of Medicine — there’s a reason it’s Seattle’s largest single building — West Seattle Bridge, Pike Place Market preservation etc. And then there are Scoop’s priceless contributions to our environment, not least of them acquisition of Magnuson Park, North Cascades etc. We benefit every day.