Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Long-Time U. S. Senator Frank Church [otd 07/25]

Senator Church. Library of Congress.
U.S. Senator and third-generation Idahoan Frank Forrester Church was born July 25, 1924 in Boise. In 1942, he started school at Stanford University, but left to enlist in the U. S. Army the following year. After the war, despite a bout with cancer, he completed his education, obtaining a law degree from Stanford in 1950.

He opened a Boise law practice, but quickly embarked upon his real goal. He wanted to be a professional politician like his hero, William A. Borah [blog, June 29]. In 1952, Church ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature. Yet he succeeded four years later in a bid for a U. S. Senate seat.

Church would be re-elected to the Senate for three more terms. Thus, this short essay can only touch the highlights of his career. Although only a freshman Senator, he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, and continued to support other civil rights legislation. Appointed to the Special Committee on Aging in 1967, Church became Chairman of that group five years later. He thus actively sponsored and promoted medical, housing, and other programs for the elderly.

He supported the limited early U. S. involvement in Vietnam, but then led the successful fight to end our heavier role in the conflict. Church also gained much notoriety for his aggressive investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency. His committee certainly found much to condemn, and much that needed fixing. However, corrective measures imposed by Congress had many unintended consequences. For example, agents who seek information from knowledgeable locals – "Humlnt" or Human Intelligence – must often deal with unsavory, even reprehensible characters. New Congressional guidelines made such contacts difficult, if not next to impossible.

Many have asked how Church, with his mostly liberal views, spent four terms in the Senate from what is acknowledged to be a conservative state. His help to the elderly was definitely a plus. Also, despite caricatures to the contrary, Idahoans have a tradition of embracing some liberal (so-called) causes. For example, only three states preceded Idaho in granting women the right to vote (almost a quarter century before the Nineteenth Amendment).

Church opposed a liberal position that would have been a "third rail" issue in Idaho: gun control. He was also very careful in how he handled agricultural legislation. But perhaps more than anything else, the Senator was a master of "pork barrel" politics. He funneled money to the state far in excess of what its minor population might otherwise warrant.
Wilderness area, Idaho. Bureau of Land Management photo.
Finally, some of his environmental positions resonated with many voters. (Some, however, found them elitist, and complained about the loss of jobs.) The Frank Church/River-of-No-Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho is so named in his honor.

In 1976, Church pursued the Democratic Party nomination for President. Although he won four primaries, he chose to end his candidacy. About that same time, Church helped secure Senate passage of treaties to end U. S. ownership of the Panama Canal. His advocacy of those accords, plus other issues, allowed Congressman Steve Symms to defeat Church’s bid for re-election in 1980. Church died of pancreatic cancer in April 1984.
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Special Collections: The Frank Church Papers, Boise State University (1988)
“Frank Forrester Church,” Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress.
Stephen F. Knott, “Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA,” History News Network, George Mason University (November 4, 2001).

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