One lawmaker who had it right

By David S. Broder Published:

By David S. Broder

WASHINGTON -- Stanley R. Tupper served in the House of Representatives for only six years, from 1961 to 1967, and retired voluntarily to his home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. He was never prominent on TV talk shows and his name was rarely in the headlines, even back then.

But last week, he was the subject of a speech on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives by an old friend of mine, state Rep. Janet Mills of Farmington, who wanted her contemporaries to know what Tupper -- who died last month at 84 and declined to have any funeral service -- had meant to her and to the wider world.

Mills, who had visited Tupper last summer in Boothbay Harbor and -- she told me -- talked with him on the phone just days before he died, described him to her colleagues as an individual who was as steadfast as the towns sturdy old-growth spruce and granite shore, as affable and good-natured as the gulls that happily wing along that shore, as practical and hard-working as the local lobstermen and laborers who ply their trade in the markets and the sea nearby.

After graduating from local schools and attending Middlebury College, he served in the Border Patrol and, during World War II, in the Navy. He read law in his fathers law office, and was admitted to the bar without a formal law degree. As a young lawyer, he organized a cooperative for local lobstermen and later, as state fisheries commissioner, developed programs to help them market their catch.

Elected to Congress in 1960, Tupper was a Republican notable for his independence. He supported the great civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965 and -- even more controversially -- co-sponsored the legislation that became the Medicare law.

Condemned by the medical establishment for that act of apostasy, he told Mills during their visit last summer how he got himself invited to speak to the Medical Associations convention that year. He said it was like being a gun control advocate at an NRA convention, (but) he patiently explained to them exactly what that legislation did, how it would save lives, keep seniors healthy and become an economic mainstay of our culture in decades to come.

And they sat on their hands, Mills said. They hated him. They hated his ideas. But he had faced them down. ... He stood his ground. He knew he was right.

In the autumn of 1964, Tupper did something that outraged conservatives even more. He refused to endorse Barry Goldwater for president, out of protest to the Republican nominees civil rights stand -- despite being an officer in the Air Force Reserve unit that Goldwater commanded on Capitol Hill. After the election, Goldwater, being the man he was, wrote Tupper thanking him for his consistent honesty and for sticking to his principles.

People were like that -- back then.

Tupper retired from Congress in 1967, passed up several chances to run for governor, but, with a long-held interest in U.S.-Canadian relations, served as U.S. commissioner to the Montreal Worlds Fair. As a private citizen, he remained actively involved in public affairs, opposing the Vietnam War, heading Common Cause in Maine, chairing a legislative ethics commission and -- in 2000 -- serving as co-chairman of John McCains Maine campaign.

Mills sent me a copy of Tuppers campaign brochure from 1964, the year in which he won a 203-vote victory over Democrat Ken Curtis, later the governor of Maine. As with Goldwater, Tuppers personal character helped overcome any political differences. He and Curtis remained fast friends for life.

The brochure said, Stan believes a congressman should think issues through clearly on their individual merits without being concerned about labels; have imagination and the ability to suggest positive ideas; be sympathetic to the desires and aspirations of his constituents when not in conflict with the security and well-being of the nation; have personal courage to vote as he thinks wisest in face of political pressure and criticism; keep his constituents informed of his views -- it is just as important that people have opportunity to disagree as to agree with their representative; and, finally, that he should place a higher priority on conscience than on re-election.

Thats as good a credo as Ive ever read -- and he lived up to it.

(c) 2006, Washington Post Writers Group

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