Foley: In the Spirit of `Maggie' and `Scoop'

By , Ted Van Dyk, a native of Bellingham, Wash., has been active in national Democratic politics since the early 1960s.

REP. TOM FOLEY's ascension to the House speakership will result in changes both of style and substance that will be good for the country. Most media profiles will focus on Mr. Foley's voting record and substantive orientation. Properly, they will feature the moderation, fairness, and thoroughness that have characterized his 24-year career in the House of Representatives. They also will feature his commitments to a strong national defense; open international trade and investment policies; responsible budget policy; economic growth; and social equity.

Yet it would also be well to examine the time and place he comes from. Foley, as I did, grew up in the state of Washington in the 1940s and 1950s. We met at the University of Washington during the early 1950s when he was a law student and I was a student editor. A few years later, we would find ourselves in Washington, D.C., he working for Henry Jackson, I for Hubert Humphrey.

I particularly recall his courtship of Heather Strachan, now his wife, during the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater campaign. Tom, running for Congress in a Republican district back home, would come to pick up Heather, working at the Democratic National Committee, on those evenings when he was off the campaign trail. The Johnson campaign was good for Foley: The landslide brought him a surprise victory and a House seat.

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Washington state had a long tradition of progressive political activism. Today's hot-tub crowd had not yet discovered the area. On the western side of the state, the ``Wobblies'' and other radical unions in earlier years had been engaged in sometimes violent struggle for the right to unionize. My father, an unskilled sawmill worker, spent many a day on a picket line.

A Seattle congressman of the late 1930s and early 1940s was charged with Communist Party membership. A conservative colleague of the time referred to ``the 47 states and the Soviet of Washington.'' The region was heavily settled by immigrants who had moved from Scandinavia and through the upper Midwest, bringing with them the progressivist, participatory, talking-politics-all-night-over-coffee traditions usually identified with Minnesota and Wisconsin. On the eastern side of the state, where Foley grew up the son of a judge, the traditions were more conservative. Yet memories of rural depression were real and politics and public service honorable pursuits.

Perhaps most important then was the political domination of the state by Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, liberal Democratic senators who would loom large nationally for a quarter-century.

Mr. Magnuson, the more worldly of the two, is the subject of a thousand anecdotes. One he often told himself involved the circumstance in which he became a candidate for Congress. The incumbent congressman in his Seattle district, mentally deranged, leaped to his death from a hotel window. Magnuson, a prosecutor, heard the news on the radio. He raced to the courthouse to file his candidacy papers just ahead of the deadline. Mr. Jackson, more sober and industrious, got his nickname, ``Scoop,'' from his boyhood method of delivering the Everett Daily Herald. The anecdotes about him were of integrity and dogged pursuit of what he deemed worthy objectives.

Though different personalities, both men worked tirelessly in Congress on behalf of their constituents and the causes of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society. They differed on foreign policy, but did so without rancor. They got things done. They also knew how to win elections. They did it honorably, through hard work, and, in the phrase of the time, ``on the issues.'' To their constituents, big shots and humble, they were ``Maggie and Scoop,'' befitting their plain origins and their home constituencies.

The politics of the state still bears their stamp. It's a cleaner, more-open politics than that you'll see in many places. Jackson died a few years back in his hometown of Everett. Magnuson passed away late last month in Seattle. That evening I encountered Foley at a dinner party in Washington, D.C. He was talking animatedly to a small group of listening movers-and-shakers who clearly were pleased to be in the presence of the next Speaker of the House. But Foley wasn't talking about himself; he was telling an admiring story about Magnuson.

Scoop, Maggie, and all the rest of us home folks are proud of you, Tom. As they get to know you better, other Americans will feel the same.

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