San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Former GOP lawmaker took on his own party

Friends say environmen­tal, anti-war stances were guided by his principles

- By Sam Whiting and Peter Fimrite

Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, a maverick former Republican congressma­n from the South Bay who led six bayonet charges in the Korean War, co-chaired the first Earth Day in 1970 and helped write the federal Endangered Species Act, died Wednesday.

The granite-chinned war hero, who spent most of his life fighting for peace, died of heart and kidney failure at his home in Winters (Yolo County), said his wife of 42 years, Helen Hooper McCloskey. He was 96.

“Pete was so much fun, adventures­ome and open-minded,” said his wife on Wednesday. “As passionate as he was with his causes, he was courteous and willing to listen to fact-based disagreeme­nt. That was the cool thing about him.”

The longtime Republican environmen­talist was a charming mix of what politician­s today might call contradict­ions. But his friends say his work in politics and law was guided by a strong sense of what was ethical and moral, not by which political party backed the position.

McCloskey was never afraid to back the underdog, take on his own party, or go toe-to-toe with big shots in business or politics, even if it was a lost cause.

“Pete was the most principled, clear-spoken American patriot and trial lawyer I have ever met,” said retired Judge Quentin Kopp, who knew McCloskey since the early 1960s when they co-wrote articles for a legal journal on civil rights and legal ethics.

For the past 30 years, McCloskey was a tractor-driving olive farmer in Rumsey, in the Capay Valley of Yolo County. When his health started to fail three years ago, he sold the farm and moved to an old farmhouse in Winters, where he lived with Helen and five rescue dogs. He never lost his hair, his good looks or his sense of humor. In his final weeks, he took in a steady stream of visitors, from former Marines to political operatives, to an entire generation of Pen

insula kids who served as his congressio­nal staffers and interns. At least one visitor, Ann McLane Kuster, went from staffer to representa­tive herself, currently representi­ng the 2nd District of New Hampshire.

“Pete was inspiratio­nal and courageous,” said Kuster, who met him as a 16-year-old campaigner in the 1972 New Hampshire Presidenti­al primary. “Pete empowered me to make a difference in the world at a very young age. I was one of many.”

Also visiting was retired Rep. Jackie Speier of San Mateo. They came one after another, and McCloskey entertaine­d them all while lying in bed.

“He was sharp mentally and he and I told each other stories,” said Kopp, who is 95 to McCloskey’s 96.

McCloskey had joined the Marine Corps while at Stanford Law School because he felt he owed a return on the GI Bill that had paid his way through Stanford. Because he’d already served in the Navy, during World War II, he went into active duty, and as a 2nd lieutenant, McCloskey spent 10 harrowing months in Korea, where 58 of the 61 members of the platoon he led were either killed or wounded in heavy fighting.

“You don’t forget the first time you’re shot at,” McCloskey told the Chronicle in 2014. “I was scared most of my time, but you’re more scared that some other Marine might see that you’re scared.” Though he was elected to Congress seven times, he liked to say the number he was most proud of was six. That is the number of fixed-bayonet charges he led at the front of a Marine rifle platoon in one desperate battle. To be selected to lead even one bayonet charge is a greater honor than being elected to Congress, he later said.

McCloskey, who rose to the rank of colonel, was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordin­ary heroism, the Silver Star for bravery in combat and two Purple Hearts. He never forgot the horror of war, which would guide him in his future career.

After Korea, McCloskey worked as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County and in 1955 opened a private law practice in Palo Alto. He was elected to the House of Representa­tives in 1967, defeating former child movie star Shirley Temple Black to represent the southern Peninsula and Santa Clara Valley. McCloskey was not recruited to run, as the seat had been all but promised to Black to complete the term of Rep. Arthur Younger.

McCloskey’s campaign team consisted of old law school buddies and neighbors in Portola Valley, where he lived. His primary victory over an opponent with internatio­nal name recognitio­n was such a lesson in grassroots campaignin­g that it inspired a nonfiction account, called “The Sinking of the Lollipop: Shirley Temple vs. Pete McCloskey,” published in 1968.

“Pete’s defeat of Shirley was a stunner. She was a big star and

he was a little-known war hero,” said Tom Brokaw, the TV news anchor who had covered the campaign for a feature report that barely mentioned McCloskey when it aired. In return, McCloskey staffers ditched Brokaw at the Stanford Shopping Center in the middle of the night after the victory celebratio­n. He had to find his own way back to San Francisco where he was staying. That was a typical McCloskey prank. They became close friends after that. McCloskey always made for good news copy.

“Pete then became a critic of Nixon and a very effective opponent,” Brokaw said. “He was always a rebel.”

After a fact-finding trip to Vietnam in 1971, McCloskey became the first Republican congressma­n to come out against the Vietnam War. In 1972, he launched a no-hope campaign against President Richard Nixon, running on an antiwar platform. He won one delegate, which earned him recognitio­n in the comic strip Doonesbury, wherein Zonker’s mother was cast as the one lonely delegate chanting “I Want McCloskey.”

After Nixon won re-election, McCloskey became the first GOP lawmaker to call for Nixon’s impeachmen­t as the president became engulfed by the Watergate scandal.

Paul Norton McCloskey Jr. was born Sept. 29, 1927 in the Southern California city of Loma Linda, to a family with deep roots in California. His greatgrand­father, Henry Harrison McCloskey, was orphaned during the Irish potato famine, coming to San Francisco in 1853. One grandfathe­r was a U.S. attorney and captain of the National Guard unit that helped control rioting in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. His maternal grandfathe­r was mayor of San

Bernardino in the early 1900s. Because his dad was known as Pete, McCloskey Jr. was known as “re-Pete,” later shortened to Pete.

McCloskey attended South Pasadena High School. As valedictor­ian for his graduating class in 1945, he spoke in support of the formation of the United Nations. He joined the Navy straight out out of high school but was too late to see action in the war. Both of his parents had gone to Stanford, and his own father had been a star third baseman who became a lawyer. McCloskey Jr. played baseball and was a member of Phi Delta Beta fraternity.

In 1949, he married Caroline Wadsworth, known as Cubby, whom he had met on a beach in 1947.

McCloskey earned his bachelor’s degree in 1950 from Stanford University and was midway through law school when he

nd joined the Marine Reserves. When he was called to active duty, he left behind his wife, also a Stanford student, and daughter Nancy, born in February 1951.

“He loved to tell the story of how he found out about my birth,” said his daughter, a retired civil rights investigat­or for the U.S. Department of Justice. “He was in his foxhole when he was ordered to see the CO. He risked his life running downhill through the snow to get the telegram and risked his life running back uphill again.”

After the war he returned to law school, graduating in 1953. He then moved to Alameda to work as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office before returning to the Peninsula to go into private practice. With four kids born within eight years of each other — Nancy, Peter, John and Kathy — the family moved to the unincorpor­ated community of Ladera before settling in Portola

Valley in 1965.

The family moved to McLean, Va., after he was elected to Congress, and McCloskey spoke at the graduation of Langley High School, when his daughter Nancy graduated in 1969 and again when his son Peter graduated in 1971. The McCloskeys were divorced in 1972.

In Congress, McCloskey supported many environmen­tal causes. At a time when the Republican Party was not as ardently opposed to the movement as today, he was referred to as “a Teddy Roosevelt-style conservati­onist.” He co-chaired the first Earth Day in 1970 and helped write the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973.

He was re-elected to the House seven times, and his seat was safe enough that he could probably have been re-elected every two years for a lifetime. But he held to a belief that a representa­tive lost effectiven­ess after 15 years, so upon that anniversar­y, in 1982, he left the House in order to run for the Republican nomination to the Senate in 1982. He was defeated in the primary by San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who then defeated Jerry Brown in the general election.

As an attorney, McCloskey handled more than 100 jury trials and served as president of the Palo Alto Bar Associatio­n and the Conference of Barristers for the State Bar of California. He eventually became a partner with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, where he recently played a prominent role in a lawsuit against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla for blocking public access to Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.

McCloskey, who considered President George H.W. Bush a friend, neverthele­ss backed John Kerry in 2004 because of his opposition to the Iraq War. In 2006, he again bucked his party and ran against seven-term Republican Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy.

He refused contributi­ons from political action committees and accused Pombo and the Republican leadership of being corrupted by power. After losing in the primary, he endorsed Pombo’s Democratic opponent, Jerry McNerney, who won in the general election. A year later, McCloskey re-registered as a Democrat.

In 2014, McCloskey returned to North Korea and met with Ji Young Choon, a retired lieutenant general who fought against the Marines more than 60 years before. There were tears on both sides.

“We saluted each other and then embraced,” McCloskey told the Chronicle. “We agreed that we didn’t want our children, grandchild­ren or great-grandchild­ren to ever fight in a war.”

He was never jingoistic and never marched in parades, but he knew what it meant to be a combat Marine. When evangelist Pat Robertson ran for president in 1988 and hyped the fact that he had been a Marine in Korea, McCloskey called his bluff. They’d gone over on the same troop ship and McCloskey told the media that Robertson had been the ship “liquor officer” and had bragged that he’d never see combat because his father was U.S. Senator A. Willis Robertson. Robertson sued McCloskey for libel, but a judge tossed out the case and granted McCloskey attorney’s fees. McCloskey delighted in that and in Robertson dropping out of the race.

Ever loyal to those who had fallen, McCloskey accepted a plea from Korean War veterans to head up a fundraisin­g campaign to get a long overdue Korean War memorial built in San Francisco.

“I’m not much for memorials. They’re fine,” McCloskey, then 88, told the Chronicle with his typical candor. “I’m for getting rid of all this pride and militarism.”

But as founding president of the Korean War Memorial Foundation, he got the job done, and the $3.4 million memorial opened on Aug. 1, 2016, across from the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio. Arriving for the opening ceremony, McCloskey was circumspec­t in his comments.

“It was a war that had to be fought, and I was proud to have fought in it,” he said at the ceremony. “We saved a new nation and we should be proud of having saved it.”

Through it all, McCloskey remained a staunch environmen­talist, serving on the advisory council of the American Land Conservanc­y. He worked with conservati­on groups to preserve Bridgeport Valley in Modoc County, Bear Valley in Calaveras County and the 82,000-acre Hearst Ranch near San Simeon.

McCloskey taught legal ethics and political science at Stanford and Santa Clara universiti­es and authored four books on politics and law. He also helped veterans of the wars in Afghanista­n and Iraq get college educations after returning from duty.

Among his steady stream of recent visitors was Tom Schreck, a retired biotech entreprene­ur whose late father, Albert, was financial chair of the campaign that sunk the Lollipop. The younger Schreck was executive producer of the documentar­y film “Pete McCloskey: Leading From the Front, The Story of a True Political Maverick,” which was released in 2009 and aired on more than 100 PBS stations nationwide.

“Pete really held the standard of honesty and integrity at all cost above and beyond anything else,” said Schreck. “His passing is the end of an era. Pete really fashioned himself after the great 18th century military heroes and embodied that.”

Survivors include his wife, Helen H. McCloskey, of Winters; daughters Nancy McCloskey of Washington, D.C., and Kathy McCloskey, of Mercersbur­g, Pa.; sons Peter McCloskey, of Tuscany, Italy, and John McCloskey of Davis; seven grandchild­ren, six great-grandchild­ren and five dogs.

 ?? Lance Iversen/The Chronicle 2006 ?? Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey was a former Republican congressma­n from the South Bay who helped write the Endangered Species Act.
Lance Iversen/The Chronicle 2006 Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey was a former Republican congressma­n from the South Bay who helped write the Endangered Species Act.
 ?? United Press Internatio­nal 1973 ?? Pete McCloskey was reelected to the House seven times before giving up his seat for an unsuccessf­ul Senate bid.
United Press Internatio­nal 1973 Pete McCloskey was reelected to the House seven times before giving up his seat for an unsuccessf­ul Senate bid.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States