New Documentary Puts Mark Hatfield Under a Microscope

Hatfield, right, is serenaded on his 73rd birthday. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Hatfield, right, is serenaded on his 73rd birthday. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted November 1, 2013 at 3:13pm

A trio of documentarians is working to ensure that the political legacy of the late Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon does not fade into obscurity, producing a feature-length retrospective on the compromise-embracing Republican, titled “The Gentleman of the Senate.”

Rick Dancer, one of the co-executive producers of “The Hatfield Project,” said his group has woven interviews with nearly six dozen people who worked with, and often alongside, Hatfield throughout his long-winding career into the roughly 150-minute film. The who’s who of Hatfield’s political pals includes: Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran (he eulogized Hatfield on the Senate floor upon his passing in late 2011), ex-Rep. Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., former Sens. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., and John Warner, R-Va., the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and President Bill Clinton.

Inouye, who toiled with Oregon’s longest-serving senator (30 years) on the Senate Appropriations Committee, revealed that he was so impressed by the then-chairman’s character, he crossed the aisle to contribute to Hatfield’s 1990 re-election campaign.

“He did not really believe in partisanship,” Inouye asserted.

To this day, Dancer says, left-leaning voters in hyper-liberal Portland continue to revere Hatfield’s penchant for putting sound policy above ideology. “They’ll say, ‘That’s the one Republican I voted for … because he stood on principle,’” Dancer said of the esteem in which Hatfield is still held back home.

All of which got Dancer et al. wondering: Could Hatfield make it in the modern political arena?

“There probably could be another Mark Hatfield. But he wouldn’t make it through our primary system,” Dancer suggested, calculating that the current nominating structure tends to favor fringe candidates at both extremes rather than middle-of-the-road candidates.

Which is not to say Hatfield was necessarily the most agreeable fellow during his time in Washington.

His opposition to the Vietnam War and the 1981 Defense Department budget put him at odds with Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively.

But, as Warner explained in his interview for the film, Hatfield’s military service made him wary of war efforts he didn’t understand.

“He was very careful about the deployment of our forces … because he had seen the real carnage of World War II,” Warner said. “He was a silent but genuine military hero.”

It’s that ability to hold fast to his beliefs — “His dad used to tell him, ‘Don’t be afraid to stand alone or go home,’” Dancer related of Hatfield’s ingrained philosophy — but still see the other side that’s really stuck with the novice filmmaker.

“He wasn’t afraid to let other people have their voice. And he’s made me more that way,” Dancer told HOH. So much so, in fact, that Dancer claims even friends have chided his newfound enlightenment.

“People get tired of if because I’m so civil,” Dancer quipped.

The movie is scheduled to premiere (tickets start at $50) at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Antoinette Hatfield Hall in Portland, Ore.

Dancer would ultimately like to bring the movie to D.C. as well, but he stressed that cementing Hatfield’s place in Oregon history remains paramount.

“The plan is to create a DVD to go into every library, public and private, so that no one ever forgets who Mark Hatfield was,” he stated.