Over the years, there has been many special people who have served in politics. Among the most special was Senator George McGovern who passed away this morning at the age of 90. The Senator was a friend and ally from the 1960's when his he was a light in a time of great darkness..
My first interaction with Senator McGovern was at the 1968 bloody Democratic Convention. The Senator became a place where those mourning the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy could rally at that Convention. He met with a group of young Eugene McCarthy supporters (including me) at that Convention. My first impression he was a man who was so soft spoken but powerful in his morality and ideas.
After that horrible Convention, the Democratic Party made a commitment to reform the rule and process of delegate selection ending the era where big city Mayors and bosses could hand pick their friends to be delegates. Fortunately I was one of a few people to serve on the Democratic Party Commission on Delegate Selection whose Chairman was McGovern. With a wise steady hand he guided a divided Commission ranging from the left to those representing the bosses.
Often the Senator would call me into his Capitol Hill office to seek solutions between the factions but never once did he ever ask me to tone down my fiery rhetoric nor violate my principles. He was one of the few to encourage me to follow and speak out about my passion for representation for those excluded in 1968. Instead he would focus on those issues where I could in good conscience support the other side and then would make those issues the bridge between factions.
McGovern was brilliant at it and the recommendations of the McGovern Commission changed the complexion of the Democratic Party forever.
McGovern had two great passions of his own - peace and world hunger. We worked together on the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment (Senator Mark Hatfield R-Oregon) which was the main legislative vehicle to attempt to wind down Vietnam War. Working with his office closely, those of us at the Vietnam Moratorium in 1969 did our best to add sponsor names to that list. In addition, he walk with over 600,000 marchers down Pennsylvania Ave in November, 1969 and then spoke against the War at the rally.
The Senator never could understand why a nation with so much food couldn't share it with the world. Over and over again the Senator attempted to find ways to open new doors to feed the people of the world.
In many ways, his race for the Presidency in 1972 was the calling card for the new Democratic Party that emerged from the new rules. While the 1972 Convention was unruly at times, it represented a dramatic shift away from the old bosses. In fact, the first LGBT person, Jim Foster to ever address a National Party Convention was at the McGovern Convention in Miami.
In 1977, the Senator who was in a tough re-election battle flew to California at my request (in a meeting arranged by Robert Shrum) flew to California to speak at an event to raise funds to defeat Anita Bryant's anti-LGBT teacher initiative that was in its early stages. He was the first United States Senator to ever speak before such a group.
The Senator was an important force in my life especially in teaching never to violate your principles nor change your course morally for political convenience.
Even among the great, he was a giant.