Former Washington Senator Slade Gorton dies, age 92

Former Washington Senator Slade Gorton dies, age 92
Former state legislator and U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton died Aug. 19 at the age of 92. Photo: public domain

Former state legislator and U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton died Aug. 19 at the age of 92 after a brief illness. As State Attorney General, Gorton represented the state during the 1974 Boldt decision and was a member of the 9/11 Commission following his service in the U.S. Senate.

Gorton was born Jan. 8, 1928 in Chicago; he served in the U.S. Army between 1945-46 before graduating from Dartmouth College in 1950 and then Columbia University Law School in 1953. He later served in the Air Force Reserve for 24 years, attaining the rank of colonel. As an attorney, he was involved in a lawsuit against the Evergreen Point Bridge (state Route 520 Bridge), in which the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of its construction.

First elected to the Washington state Legislature in 1959, Gorton served for a decade and eventually became the Republican Majority Leader before he was elected State Attorney General in 1969. During his tenure he defended the state in the pivotal 1974 Boldt decision in U.S. District Court regarding tribal fishing rights. Judge George Boldt’s ruling mandated that 50 percent of the annual catch in Washington be shared with the tribes.

Gorton was elected twice to the U.S. Senate, first in 1980 against Warren Magnuson, then again in 1992 after losing to Brock Adams in 1986. Gorton would then serve until he was defeated in the 2000 election by current Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, who won by only 2,229 votes. Gorton was among the Senate Republicans to vote against removing President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. As of August 2020, Gorton is the last Republican to represent Washington state in the U.S. Senate.

In 2002 Gorton served on the 9/11 Commission, which published its report in 2004 on the terrorist attack. In 2008 he represented the city of Seattle in a lawsuit against Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett that ended with the basketball team relocating to Oklahoma City.

Prior to that, Gorton was instrumental in keeping the Seattle Mariners from moving in the 1990s when he convinced Nintendo to invest $100 million and helped formulate a new ownership structure. The Mariners in 2016 held a celebration at Safeco Field in honor of Gorton’s work.

Prior to his death, Gorton headed the Slade Gorton International Policy Center located in Seattle and was also a member of the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission.

Gorton married former Seattle Times reporter Sally Clark in 1958 and the two remained together until her death in 2013. He is survived by his daughters, Sarah Nortz and Rebecca Gorton Dannaker, and his son Thomas Gorton. He is also survived by his brothers Mike Gorton, Sr. and Nathaniel M. Gorton, along with seven grandchildren.

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