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Frank Church

Frank Forrester Church III (July 25, 1924 April 7, 1984) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a United States Senator from Idaho from 1957 to 1981.

Church was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 1976 presidential election, losing to Jimmy Carter. He is known for heading the Church Committee, which investigated abuses in the U.S. intelligence agencies.


Early life

Frank Church was raised in Boise, Idaho. In his youth, Church admired William E. Borah, who then represented Idaho in the United States Senate. Church graduated from Boise High School in 1942, where he served as student body president. As a junior in 1941, he won the American Legion National Oratorical Contest. The prize was sufficient to provide for four years at the college of the winner's choice. Church chose Stanford University, enrolling in 1942.

In 1943, Church enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a military intelligence officer in the China-Burma-India theater. Following his discharge in 1946, he returned to Stanford to complete his education, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1947.

Also in 1947, he married Bethine Clark, daughter of Chase A. Clark, a former Democratic governor of Idaho, and entered Harvard Law School. After one year at Harvard, Church transferred to Stanford Law School, when he thought the cold Massachusetts winter was the cause of a pain in his lower back. The pain did not go away and the problem was soon diagnosed as testicular cancer.[1] After one of his testicles and glands in his lower abdomen were removed, Church was given only a few months to live. However, he rebounded from the illness after another doctor started X-ray treatments. This second chance led him to later reflect that "life itself is such a chancy proposition that the only way to live is by taking great chances." In 1950, Church graduated from Stanford Law School and returned to Boise to practice law.

Frank and Bethine had two sons, Frank Forrester Church IV, who died in 2009, and Chase Clark Church, who lives in Boise.

Political career

Church became an active Democrat in Idaho and after an unsuccessful try for the State Legislature in 1952, he ran for the United States Senate in 1956. After a closely contested primary election against former Senator Glen H. Taylor, Church handily defeated Republican incumbent Herman Welker in the general election. At the age of 32, Church became the fifth youngest member ever to sit in the U.S. Senate. Church was reelected three times (1962, 1968 and 1974), the only Democrat ever to win reelection to the U.S. Senate from Idaho.

Upon entering the Senate in January 1957, Church made the mistake of voting on a measure against the wishes of Democratic Majority Leader, Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson punished Church by all but ignoring him for the next six months. Church found solace from Republican Minority Leader, William Knowland. However, Church managed to find his way into Johnson's good graces by providing key assistance in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed. LBJ was so grateful he made the young Idahoan a veritable prot g , rewarding him with plum assignments, such as a seat on the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position which allowed Church to follow in the footsteps of his idol, William Borah. Recently declassified documents show that the young veteran also challenged his mentor, behind closed doors, after the 1964 incident in the Gulf of Tonkin,[2] making this prescient warning: In a democracy you cannot expect the people, whose sons are being killed and who will be killed, to exercise their judgment if the truth is concealed from them."

In 1967, a recall campaign was waged against Church by Ron Rankin, a Republican county commissioner in Kootenai County in northern Idaho. Rankin unsuccessfully sued Idaho's secretary of state to accept recall petitions. The U.S. District Court for Idaho ruled that the state's recall laws did not apply to U.S. senators and that such a recall would violate the U.S. Constitution. Allan Shepard, Idaho's attorney general at the time, agreed with the court's decision.

"It must be pointed out that a United States senator is not a state officer but a federal officer whose position is created by Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution," Shepard wrote in a June 17, 1967, opinion for the secretary of state. "There seems to be no provision for canvassing the votes of a recall election of a United States senator." Most commentators at the time believed that the recall attempt strengthened Church politically by allowing him to play the role of political martyr and he was reelected in the next year's election over Republican Congressman George V. Hansen 60% to 40%.

Vietnam War and Church Committee

From left: Senator Joe Biden, Senator Frank Church and President of Egypt Anwar Sadat after signing Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, 1979 Church was a key figure in American foreign policy during the 1970s, and served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1979 to 1981. Following the instinct that led him to ask questions early on (see above), Church was one of the first senators to publicly oppose the Vietnam War in the 1960s, although he had supported the conflict earlier. He was the co-author of two legislative efforts to curtail the war: the Cooper-Church Amendment of 1970, and the Case-Church Amendment of 1973.

In September 1970, Church announced on television and in speeches across the country that "the doves had won." Author David F. Schmitz states that Church based his assertion on the fact that two key propositions of the anti-war movement, "A negotiated peace and the withdrawal of American troops," were now official policy. The only debate that remained would be over when to withdraw, not whether to withdraw, and over the meaning of the war. Church concluded:

Church argued that the opponents of the Vietnam War needed to prevent the corruption of the nation and its institutions. To Church, the anti-war opposition was the "highest concept of patriotism which is not the patriotism of conformity but the patriotism of Senator Carl Schurz, a dissenter from an earlier period, who proclaimed: 'Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right: when wrong, to be put right."[3]

Church gained national prominence during his service in the Senate through his chairmanship of the Church Committees, which conducted extensive hearings investigating extra-legal FBI and CIA intelligence-gathering and covert operations. Together with Senator Sam Ervin's committee inquiries, the Church Committee hearings laid the groundwork for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The committee also investigated CIA drug smuggling activities in the Golden Triangle and secret U.S.-backed wars in Third World countries.[4][5][6][7]

Environmental record and other issues

Church is also remembered for his voting record as a strong progressive and environmental legislator, and he played a major role in the creation of the nation's system of protected wilderness areas in the 1960s. In 1964, Church was the floor sponsor of the national Wilderness Act. In 1968, he sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and gained passage of a ten year moratorium on federal plans to transfer water from the Pacific Northwest to California. Working with other members of Congress from northwestern states, Church helped establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area along the Oregon-Idaho border, which protected the gorge from dam building. He was also the primary proponent in the establishment of the Sawtooth Wilderness & National Recreation Area in central Idaho in 1972.

Church also was instrumental in the creation of Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness in 1980, his final year in the Senate. This wilderness comprised the old Idaho Primitive Area, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive Area, plus additional lands. At 2.36 million acres (9,550 km ), over , it is the largest wilderness area in the nation outside of Alaska. It was renamed the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in March 1984, weeks before his death, and is known regionally as "The Frank."

Frank Church was considered a progressive (remarkable considering that he represented one of the most conservative states in the nation); however, not all of his positions were center-left. Throughout his tenure in the Senate, Church was an opponent of gun control legislation. He also, in 1979, was the first in Congress to disclose and protest the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this stance somewhat disarmed his opponent's charge in the 1980 campaign that Church's performance on the Foreign Relations Committee had helped to weaken the US militarily.[8] In 1974, Church joined Senator Frank Moss, D-Utah, to sponsor the first legislation to provide federal funding for hospice care programs. The bill did not have widespread support and was not brought to a vote. Congress finally included a hospice benefit in Medicare in 1982.[9]

In late 1975 and early 1976, a sub-committee of the U.S. Senate led by Church concluded that members of the Lockheed board had paid members of friendly governments to guarantee contracts for military aircraft[10] in a series of illegal bribes and contributions made by Lockheed officials from the late 1950s to the 1970s. In 1976, it was publicly revealed that Lockheed had paid $22 million in bribes to foreign officials[11] in the process of negotiating the sale of aircraft including the F-104 Starfighter, the so-called "Deal of the Century".

Late political career

In 1976, Church sought the Democratic nomination for president. Although he won primaries in Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, he withdrew in favor of the eventual nominee, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. Church remains the only Idahoan to win a major-party presidential primary election.

By June, Carter had the nomination sufficiently locked up and could take time to interview potential vice-presidential candidates. The pundits predicted that Church would be tapped to provide balance as an experienced senator with strong liberal credentials. Church promoted himself, persuading friends to intervene with Carter in his behalf. If a quick choice had been required as in past conventions, Carter later recalled, he would probably have chosen Church. But the longer period for deliberation gave Carter time to worry about his compatibility with the publicity-seeking Church, who had a tendency to be long-winded. Instead, Carter invited Senators Edmund Muskie, John Glenn, and Walter Mondale to visit his home in Plains, Georgia, for personal interviews, while Church, Henry M. Jackson, and Adlai Stevenson III would be interviewed at the convention in New York. Of all the potential candidates, Carter found Mondale the most compatible. As a result, Carter selected Mondale as his running mate.

In the late 1970s Church was a main congressional supporter of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which proposed to return the Panama Canal to Panama. The latter position proved to be widely unpopular in Idaho and led to the formation of the "Anybody But Church Committee" (ABC), committee created by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), based in Washington, D.C. ABC and NCPAC had no formal connection with the 1980 Senate campaign of conservative Republican congressman Steve Symms, which permitted them, under former Federal election law, to spend as much as they could raise to defeat Church.[12]

Church lost in his attempt for a fifth term to Symms by less than one percent of the vote. His defeat was blamed on the activities of the Anybody But Church Committee and the national media's early announcement of Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's overwhelming win in Idaho. These predictions were broadcast before polls closed statewide, specifically in the Pacific Time Zone. Many believed that this caused many Democrats in the more politically moderate Idaho Panhandle to not vote at all. , Church is the last Democrat to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate.

Following his 24 years in the Senate, Church practiced international law with the Washington, D.C., firm of Whitman and Ransom, specializing in Asian issues.

Death and legacy

Three years after leaving the Senate, Church was hospitalized for a pancreatic tumor on January 12, 1984. Less than three months later, he died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on April 7, 1984, at the age of 59. His funeral was held in Boise and televised throughout Idaho. Church was buried at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.[13]

Church received an honorary doctorate from Pennsylvania's Elizabethtown College in 1983 to honor his work for the American people during his career in public office. His papers, originally given to Stanford University in 1981, were transferred to Boise State University at his request in 1984.

Church is widely quoted in regard to the National Security Agency: "I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge... I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

See also

  • Cooper-Church Amendment
  • Case-Church Amendment
  • Frank Church High School - an alternative high school in Boise


Further reading

  • Ashby, LeRoy. Frank Church Goes to the Senate: The Idaho Election of 1956. Pacific Northwest Quarterly 78 (January April 1987): 17-31.
  • Ashby, LeRoy, and Rod Gramer. Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1994.
  • Church, F. Forrester. Father and Son: A Personal Biography of Senator Frank Church of Idaho by His Son'
  • Dant, Sara. Making Wilderness Work: Frank Church and the American Wilderness Movement. Pacific Historical Review 77 (May 2008): 237-272.
  • Ewert, Sara E. Dant. The Conversion of Senator Frank Church: Evolution of an Environmentalist. Ph.D. dissertation, Washington State University, 2000.
  • Ewert, Sara E. Dant. Evolution of an Environmentalist: Senator Frank Church and the Hells Canyon Controversy. Montana: The Magazine of Western History 51 (Spring 2001): 36-51.
  • Ewert, Sara E. Dant. Peak Park Politics: The Struggle over the Sawtooths, from Borah to Church. Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Summer 2000): 138-149.
  • Hall, Bill. Frank Church, D.C., and Me. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-87422-119-0

External links

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