Slade Gorton

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Thomas Slade Gorton, III

In office
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 2001
Preceded by Daniel Jackson Evans
Succeeded by Maria Cantwell
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by Warren Magnuson
Succeeded by Brock Adams

14th Attorney General of Washington
In office
January 15, 1969 – January 1, 1981
Governor Daniel J. Evans
Dixy Lee Ray
Preceded by John O'Connell
Succeeded by Ken Eikenberry

Washington State Representative
for District 46
In office
January 12, 1959 – January 13, 1969
Preceded by Alfred E. Leland
Succeeded by George W. Scott

Born January 8, 1928
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died August 19, 2020 (aged 92)
Clyde Hill, King County,
Resting place Presumed cremated
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sally Clark Gorton (married 1958–2013, her death)
Children Three children
Alma mater Dartmouth College (Bachelor of Arts)
Columbia University (Juris Doctor])

Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
United States Air Force
Years of service Army (1945–1946)
Air Force (1953–1956)
Air Force Reserve (1956–1980)
Rank Colonel
Unit Colonel in Air Force Reserve

Thomas Slade Gorton, III (January 8, 1928 – August 19, 2020), known as Slade Gorton, was a Republican politician from the now heavily Democratic Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. He served two stints as a United States Senator from 1981 to 1987 and again from 1989 to 2001. He hence held both of his state's two U.S. Senate seats. Twice he was narrowly defeated for reelection, in 1986 by Democrat Brockman "Brock" Adams (1927–2004) and in 2000, after a recount of ballots, by Democrat Maria Cantwell.


Though born in Chicago, Illinois, he was reared in the suburb of Evanston. His parents were Thomas Gorton, Jr, (1900–1983), and the former Ruth Israel (1897–1981).[1] His family founded the Gorton Seafood Company of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Gorton himself established another fish supplier, Slade Gorton & Co.[2] His younger brother, Nathaniel M. Gorton (born 1938), is a judge of the United States District Court in Massachusetts, who was appointed to the bench in 1992 by then U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush.[3] Slade and Nathaniel Gorton graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and subsequently from Columbia University Law School in New York City.[4]


From 1945 to 1946, Gorton served in the United States Army. From 1953 to 1956, he served in the United States Air Force. After his active duty. he was a colonel in the Air Force Reserve until 1980, when he was elected to the Senate by defeating veteran Democrat Warren Magnuson, 54 to 46 percent. Magnuson was impacted by the defeat in Washington of President Jimmy Carter by Ronald Reagan.[5]

Gordon practiced law and was elected in 1958, a heavily Democratic year nationally, to the Washington State House of Representatives. He served for a decade from 1959 to 1969 and became Majority Leader.[6] In 1968, he was elected as his state's attorney general, a post which he filled from 1969 until he entered the Senate on January 3, 1981.[1] During his three terms as attorney general, Gorton was recognized for taking the unusual step of appearing personally to argue the state's positions before the United States Supreme Court, often with success. He also pushed for consumer-protection laws.[1]

In 1970, Attorney General Gorton sued Major League Baseball after the relocation of the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gorton encouraged the formation of the Seattle Mariners and was one of the most enthusiastic fans of the team.[7][1]

As United States Senator

Senator Gorton was unseated after one term in 1986, a heavily Democratic year, by Brockman Adams, a former U.S. Representative who had served under Carter as the Secretary of Transportation. In 1988, two years after leaving the Senate, Gorton ran for the seat being vacated by his Moderate Republican ally, Daniel Jackson Evans (born 1925), a former governor of Washington. Evans was appointed to the U.S. Senate to succeed Jackson and won a special election in 1983 caused by the death of veteran Democratic Senator Henry Jackson. Evans narrowly defeated U.S. Representative and later Governor Michael Edward "Mike" Lowry (1939–2017) to claim Jackson's seat.[5]

Gorton posted a moderate voting record in the Senate. He encountered conflict with Indian tribes over fishing rights.[8] Washington became heavily Democrat as the 21st century began. No Republican presidential candidate since Gerald Ford in 1976 and Reagan in 1980, has prevailed in the state. To overcome the partisan opposition, Gorton sought to maximize the vote of those living in more Republican-friendly areas outside Seattle and King County.[9]

Gorton was one of nineteen Republican senators in 1983 to vote against the Hatch/Eagleton Human Life Amendment which would have overturned Roe v. Wade.[10] Although On the Issues indicates that Gorton supported a ban on partial-birth abortions, he also voted to allow military abortions.[11]

In October 1983, Senators Gorton and Evans joined the majority in the establishment of the third Monday of January as a national holiday in honor of the civil rights figure, Martin Luther King, Jr., effective in 1986.[12]

In 1994, Gorton won his third nonconsecutive term by defeating, 56 to 44 percent, Democrat Ronald Cordell "Ron" Sims (born 1948), an African-American member of the Seattle City Council. In that race, Gorton benefited from a nationally Republican year which brought Newt Gingrich as the Republican U.S. House Speaker.[5] He was an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the only committee member to have attained a senior command in the military.

In 1996, Gorton campaigned in neighboring Oregon for Moderate Republican Gordon Harold Smith (born 1952) in Smith's successful Senate run. Gorton and Smith are both the last Republicans to represent their states in the Senate.

In 1999, Gorton voted to impeach U.S. President Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice, but not for perjury, a position taken by ten Republican senators.[13]

In 2000, liberal Democrat Maria Ellen Cantwell employed the "time-for-a-change" mantra to unseat Gorton, aided by the victory of Al Gore over George W. Bush in the state. Her margin of victory was by only 2,229 votes. Both candidates polled 48 percent of the vote.[14] Indian tribes strongly opposed Gorton in 2000 because he consistently tried to weaken Indian sovereignty.[15]

In 2002, former Senator Gorton became a member of the 9/11 Commission, which was established to investigate the triple attacks by radical Muslims in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania.[16][5]

In 1974, as state attorney general, Gorton demanded the resignation of Moderate Republican Richard M. Nixon amid the Watergate affair. His hostility to conservatives continued in 2016, where he emerged as a staunch intraparty opponent of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, and in 2019 urged the Republicans to join the Democrats in Trump's first impeachment trial conducted in January 2020, just eight months prior to Gorton's death.[1] In his last vote for president, Gorton wrote in the name of the failed Independent candidate Evan McMullin, but Hillary Rodham Clinton carried Washington state though she lost nationally to Trump.

Gorton died in 2020 at the age of ninety-two under hospice care at the home of his daughter in Clyde Hill in King County in suburban Seattle. His wife, the former Sally Clark (1932-2013), the mother of his three children, died in Clyde Hill seven years earlier of breast cancer.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Slade Gorton (1928-2020) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed August 6, 2021.
  2. Our Story. Slade Gorton & Co., Inc. Retrieved on August 5, 2021.
  3. Gorton, Nathaniel M. (, accessed August 6, 2021.
  4. Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress - Retro Member details, accessed August 6, 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Thomas Slade Gorton III | Obituary | Beyond the Dash, accessed August 5, 2021.
  6. Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton dies at age 92. Retrieved on November 1, 2020.
  7. Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton was there for the Mariners at every turn. The Seattle Times' (August 19, 2020). Retrieved on August 5, 2021.
  8. Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton dies at 92. (August 19, 2020). Retrieved on August 6, 2021.
  9. John Henderson (September 10, 2000). Tough re-election race is nothing new to Gorton. The Seattle Times. Retrieved on September 15, 2008.
  11. Slade Gorton on the Issues. On the Issues. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  12. SENATE'S ROLL-CALL VOTE ON KING HOLIDAY. The New York Times (October 20, 1983). Retrieved on August 6, 2021.
  13. How the senators voted on impeachment -- February 12, 1999 (, accessed August 6, 2021.
  14. Joni Balter (April 24, 2005). Who is Maria Cantwell?. The Seattle Times. Retrieved on September 15, 2008.
  15. David H. Getches, Charles F. Wilkinson, Robert A. Williams, Jr. Cases and Materials on Federal Indian Law (Saint Paul, Minnesota: Thompson West, 2005), 5th ed., p. 29.
  16. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (August 21, 2004). Retrieved on August 19, 2020.