In an Outsider's State, Hatfield Plays the Role
ASHLAND, ORE. — WHEN US Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon voted against the balanced-budget amendment, he set the political outrage meters jumping among many fellow Republicans.
Senate GOP whip Trent Lott of Mississippi accused him of ``arrogance.'' Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire said he hopes his fellow Republican will lose in next year's election, along with the 33 Democrats Hatfield joined to defeat the amendment last week.
Some want to punish the Oregon maverick. Senate Republicans were to meet yesterday to consider sanctions, including denying campaign funding or revoking Hatfield's chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Such a move has not been seen in the Senate since 1924.
For Hatfield - and for the many Oregonians who have voted for him over his 40-plus years in politics - it's a familiar and not surprising story.
``Vintage Hatfield,'' says Gerry Frank, the senator's chief of staff for 26 years. ``He's a man of very strong convictions, he's not afraid to take a lonely position, and once he does it's thought-out and he sticks to his guns. He is not swayed by pressure.''
The Almanac of American Politics calls Oregon ``an experimental commonwealth and laboratory of reform.'' And while the political landscape has been changing with the influx of newcomers in recent years, that uniqueness remains a hallmark of the state.
In Oregon, ``It's almost a litmus test that you be independent-minded,'' says Jacqueline Switzer, a political scientist at Southern Oregon State College.
In Hatfield's case, this has meant co-sponsoring (together with George McGovern) a measure to end the Vietnam War, being one of only two senators to vote against the Gulf war resolution, backing a nuclear freeze, opposing term limits and capital punishment, and also calling the recent balanced-budget amendment a ``gimmick'' and ``demeaning'' to the US Constitution.
``Mark Hatfield voted against the great majority of Oregonians on this issue,'' says state Republican chairman Randy Miller, who is also a state senator. ``But I also sense that he is maybe the single person in public office today who could survive that kind of vote.''
In a lightly populated state like Oregon, politics and political relationships are often personal.
``I happen to have a son who served in the Gulf war, and I disagreed with Senator Hatfield at that time too,'' says Mr. Miller. ``But I've been proud of him on so many other occasions.... I think he's a person of great integrity.''
The Portland Oregonian, the state's largest and most influential newspaper, this week invited readers to call in with their views.
More than 3,000 people responded - more than had ever called on any other issue. Of the 714 who got through the jammed phone lines, 81 percent praised Hatfield. Many of those were Democrats who have voted for him time after time over his five terms in the Senate.
AMONG Oregon Republicans, the picture is as mixed as it is back in Washington - where Sens. Phil Gramm, Ted Stevens, Pete Domenici, Jim Jeffords, and others have defended Hatfield against calls for his punishment coming mostly from younger, more ideological lawmakers.
Before the balanced-budget amendment vote, 35 of 36 county GOP leaders signed a letter urging Hatfield's approval. At the state Republican Party's annual conference last weekend, most of the talk was of the need for a balanced-budget amendment - and of Hatfield's failure to support this key plank of the Republican ``Contract With America.''
Someone at the conference (which Hatfield did not attend) turned the placard with his name upside down as a symbol of distress. Another political activist handed out bumper stickers reading ``Dump Mark in '96'' and ``Hatfield is Unbalanced.''
While he speaks kindly of Hatfield, party chair Miller notes some of his political problems: Opposition to term limits, despite voters' approval in 1992; formal rebuke by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1992 for accepting and failing to report $43,000 in gifts during the 1980s; and being ``out of touch'' on the balanced-budget amendment.
Supporters note that Hatfield has brought federal largess to the state. But Miller says this can cut both ways. Speaking of the ouster of the House Speaker last year, he says: ``Tom Foley found that that isn't necessarily an advantage any more.''
Hatfield says he will decide this summer whether or not to run for a sixth term.