by Doug Pahl, Former Hatfield Staffer
My story relates to the Senator’s efforts to preserve Opal Creek, an area in the forests east of Salem that had been “Ground Zero” for the old growth timber debates for many years. The scene is Majority Leader Trent Lott’s office in the Capitol with Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and Senator Hatfield, the Senate Appropriations Chairman.
It was 1:30 am in Sept. 1996 and the small group was working to pare back a massive omnibus appropriations bill, a bill that was desperately needed to prevent another government shutdown. The bill contained a large parks package, including Senator Hatfield’s Opal Creek bill. Panetta said the White House wanted the parks package deleted and Gingrich concurred. Lott moved to delete it. House Majority Leader Dick Army, who had announced his specific opposition to Opal Creek, had left the room.
Senator Hatfield related what happened next: “And I felt that timing in politics is everything. And I had waited. I’d been there for about three hours going through the rest of the bill. And I felt this was a propitious moment. And I said, ‘May I speak to that motion?’ I said, ‘If that motion passes I can assure you that I’ll bring the entire bill down.’ [A]s we sat there, they saw that I was serious… [Finally,] the Speaker said ‘I think that we have your message, and it [Opal Creek] stays.’” I wish I had been there to see it, but I was two floors below anxiously waiting in the Appropriations Chairman’s office (now named for Mark Hatfield).
The Senator finally came down and I sprang from my seat. He turned a dejected look in my direction and said, “Sorry Doug, the group decided to delete the entire parks package . . . [painfully long pause, now I'm hanging my head]. . . except Opal Creek!” He always had a great sense of humor, not to mention an extraordinary sense of timing.