Bob Bartlett
Mr. Alaska
Bob Bartlett
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Mr. Alaska:
Bob Bartlett Goes to
Washington Program Transcript

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett
This is Bob Bartlett, your delegate in Congress. However, I'm not appearing before you today in that capacity. I'm here as a campaigner. During the last several years I've been on TV out here in the states a good many times. But this is the first time I've ever made a campaign film for TV. Progress has surely come up north.

Narrator:

The evening news for December 11, 1968 reported an airliner en route to Miami was hijacked to Cuba. President-elect Richard Nixon announced his new cabinet members. And in Paris, delegations from North Vietnam and the United States were still deadlocked over the shape of a table for peace talks. But there was another story most news services missed. Late that day one of America's leading lawmakers died unexpectedly. He was an influential, respected congressional leader and acknowledged as being one of the most likeable personalities on Capitol Hill. He was Senator Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett of Alaska. The one person most responsible for adding a forty-ninth state to the American Union. Today we rarely think of politicians as heroes, but Bob Bartlett was the real thing.

His story is a real life version of Hollywood's Mister Smith Goes to Washington. But one that begins in a gold mining town in frontier Alaska.

Jack Coghill:

Bob Bartlett was one of those guys that it would take him two hours to take a 15 minutes walk because he talked to everybody. And I think that was his success.

Terrence Cole:

This guy who died too young and who really left kind of an incredible human legacy that's not the typical political story.

Carol Brice:

If there was something that Bob could do to make life better for Alaskans, whether it was in Washington, DC, whether it was shoveling snow on a sidewalk, it didn't make any difference to Bob Bartlett. If he could make life better for somebody else that's what he was about.

Katie Hurley:

He represented old Alaska. When we had so much to fight for we were more together.

Narrator:

The Bob Bartlett story begins with gold. It was the Klondike Gold Rush. And Bartlett's father worked out of Dawson, deep in the Yukon Territory hauling freight with horses and mules. He married the camp cook and together Bob's parents moved to Fairbanks, in the heart of Alaska territory.

Mary Nordale:

It was not a hugely prosperous community, but it was not a desperately poor community. You know the people of Fairbanks were kind of muddling along. There was a good solid base of an economy primarily bottomed on gold mining.

Narrator:

By the time Bob Bartlett was in high school, the gold rush had slowed and jobs were scarce. Still, Bob managed to get his foot in the door at the town's leading paper, The Fairbanks Daily News Miner. He was a skilled writer and drawn to reporting.

Mary Nordale:

He just loved the written word. I wouldn't say it was an obsession. But it was a method of expression for him that was very satisfying. He felt that he could communicate very well in the written word. So starting out on the newspaper was good for him.

Narrator:

Bob had a childhood sweetheart. Her name was Vide Gaustad.

Claus-M. Naske:

Went to high school together. And she helped him with various lessons. And then she was bound for college. But he liked her a lot. And Bob followed her to University of Washington and California and Vide finally decided to succumb to his entreaties to marry him.

Narrator:

In the summer of 1930, Bob and Vide were married in Valdez. Only two people witnessed the ceremony, their friend Tony Dimond and his wife. Dimond was a lawyer from Valdez, and in many ways, he was Bartlett's political mentor. Their personal and professional friendship was important in shaping Bartlett's future.

Dimond was one of the first Alaska politicians to use air travel for campaigning. On one trip landed a small float plane on the river that runs through the heart of Fairbanks. He stepped from the airplane and accidentally walked straight into the plane's still spinning propeller. Its force pitched him into the river, and at first, bystanders believed he was killed. When rescuers eventually found Dimond, he was alive with only an injured arm. Bob Bartlett thought the drama of Tony Dimond's barnstorming accident would appeal to readers in the states. And sure enough, The New York Times bought his story and also asked for a report on the Alaska election campaign. Bartlett called Alaska a cross-section of America. He predicted Alaska and the whole country would vote Democrat and send Roosevelt to the White House. Bartlett's prediction seemed far fetched. But several months later he was proved correct on all counts.

Terrence Cole:

The Depression just so thoroughly discredited the Republican Party in the United States it's really hard to sort of appreciate how bad things got actually in 1932. That was, of course the arrival of Tony Dimond and ultimately Bob Bartlett.

Narrator:

It was 1933. Roosevelt's New Deal was on the horizon. And Tony Dimond was in Washington as Alaska's territorial delegate. Dimond chose Bob Bartlett to join him in DC to serve as his personal secretary. And so, when Congress began its new session, Bob and Vide were on their way to Washington. When they finally arrived at Union Station, still clutching their suitcases, they saw the Capitol Building for the first time. Years later, Vide said sharing that moment was one of the most thrilling memories of her life.

Unfortunately, the practical challenges of a life in Washington, DC were less enchanting. Although working for Tony Dimond was exciting and challenging, Bob wasn't sure government service was a viable career. He was taking home about the same salary as he had in Fairbanks, but his living expenses had tripled since moving to Washington.

The Bartlett's stayed in DC just 18 months before moving back north with their baby girl, Doris Ann. Bob had landed a new job with the Federal Housing Authority in Alaska. Bob was working in Juneau during the summer of 1935 when he got word that his father had died suddenly while working his gold claims north of Fairbanks.

Mary Nordale:

So Bob went back to the mine and was very unsuccessful. He did not do well. I don't know whether it was a lack of water what it was. But in any event, it was not a very successful enterprise.

Terrence Cole:

He didn't come out dead broke. You know he just came out broke. So he knew that gold mining was a really tough way to make a living. And he knew it from an early, early age.

Narrator:

By 1937 Congressional delegate Tony Dimond was again Bob Bartlett's advocate. Both he and territorial governor John Troy recommended Bob for an administrative post with the Department of the Interior, Secretary of Alaska.

Claus-M. Naske:

It was the equivalent of Lieutenant-Governor. He was responsible for the seal of Alaska and elections. And that was it. It was a position that paid fairly well, according to the standards of the time and had very few responsibilities. And that was something that Bob really liked. He wasn't very industrious at that point. It just it was like a job made for him.

Narrator:

Not long after Bartlett began working as Secretary of Alaska, a conflict of interest scandal resulted in both Alaska's territorial governor John Troy and his personal secretary resigning their positions. The Roosevelt administration appointed a new territorial governor. He was Ernest Gruening.

Terrence Cole:

You know the arrival of Ernest Gruening in 1939 brought three things together. It was the right man in the right place at the right time.

Claus-M. Naske:

FDR in essence said, “You know Ernest, you go and pull Alaska into the twentieth century and bring it into the New Deal.” And Gruening worked hard in doing just that. And he made Bartlett his equal in that endeavor.

Narrator:

Their diverse backgrounds and styles made a dynamic combination. The overbearing, intellectual Washington insider and the calm capable Alaskan. Ernest Gruening impressed Bob Bartlett. And Bob was a useful ally for Gruening.

Katie Hurley:

I think there was a mutual respect. He was stimulated by Gruening's mind and writing and so forth. But he didn't have the kind of personality that Bob had. He was your friend immediately whereas Ernest Gruening wanted to be but it was not his nature to.

Narrator:

They were an imposing team. And their effectiveness raised the stature of both their positions.

George Sundborg:

The office of Secretary of Alaska was mostly just a name. Before Bob Bartlett became it.

Narrator:

And until Ernest Gruening, the job of governor had been relatively insignificant.

Terrence Cole:

You know as a governor Gruening is not only head and shoulders, he's head, shoulders, stomach, waist and feet above every other governor of Alaska in Alaskan history. Matter of fact, you know Gruening did more himself as governor and more of an impact than all the other governors of Alaska probably combined in territorial days. All of them. The reason Gruening was an intensely polarizing figure was that no governor before him, and really no one after him, ever made as much use of what was in essence a pretty measly administrative post, governor of Alaska. Until 1939 and Ernest Gruening comes along. And then everything changes.

Archival Footage:

Completed months ahead of schedule, the new sixteen hundred mile Alcan Highway sees the first truck convoy begin to roll. A new northwest passage linking the United States with Alaska.

Narrator:

A road linking Alaska to the contiguous United States was likely unimaginable to Bob Bartlett when he first arrived in Juneau. But that was before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and war began in Europe. And more importantly, it was before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Terrence Cole:

I think psychologically it was probably the most important thing that came out of the war. Was the land link that made Alaska contiguous in a sense to the rest of the United States.

Narrator:

Although Europe seemed relatively far away from Alaska, Japan seemed uncomfortably close.

George Sundborg:

Immediately when the war broke out Juneau armed itself so to speak. We formed citizen soldiers who paced the streets at night. Everybody had a hunting rifle. And all of us patrolled with it to be sure that we were not gonna be attacked.

Narrator:

Alaska's fears were realized when Japanese bombers attacked a US Naval Base at Alaska's Dutch Harbor in June 1942. Three days later, Japanese ground forces seized the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.

Terrence Cole:

More ground was turned over during World War II by the military and army engineers and contractors working for the military than all of the gold rush period combined. By every pick and shovel mining. Put them all together. More dirt got moved in the 40s, but for military defense purposes. And that laid the foundation for the state of Alaska.

Narrator:

In 1943, Tony Dimond wrote to Bartlett to say he planned to resign from Congress before the next election. A federal judgeship was available in Alaska, and Dimond wanted to come home. When news of Dimond's resignation became public, Gruening was enthusiastic. He imagined Bartlett as his personal link to Washington and urged Tony Dimond to endorse him. Dimond publicly backed Bartlett before Bob had even decided to run.

Claus-M. Naske:

Bob was horrified all of the sudden to find himself a candidate. But he was in a position where he could not say no because Gruening had notified Dimond that Bartlett had agreed to run for the Democratic nomination.

Mary Nordale:

He knew he could do the job. There was no question about that. But the campaign and the idea of not winning were specters in front of him until the very moment that he finally filed.

Narrator:

Only minutes before the 5:00 deadline, Bartlett stepped into the recorder's office to file his candidacy for the office of Alaska Territorial Delegate to Congress. Although face to face he was warm and personable, Bartlett was awkward with public speaking. He wrote exceptional speeches, but he had trouble reading his notes and you could tell he just wasn't comfortable.

Katie Hurley:

We would have laughing fits at his first speeches, you know. Because they were – the words were wonderful, but he was so stilted. It was agony for him.

Narrator:

Bartlett's first speech raised the two major issues he intended to pursue in Congress, statehood for Alaska and abolishing fish traps. Bartlett recognized both would hit home with many Alaskans. The election was the first in a series of landslide victories for Bartlett. He beat Republican John Manders by a 2:1 margin to become Alaska's new delegate to Congress.

Bob was heading back to Washington. In just five years, he'd moved from gold mining near the Arctic Circle, to serving as Alaska's delegate to the Congress of the United States.

John Whitehead:

Everyone I met said that Bob was the most liked member of the Congress. Partisanship may not have been as much an issue back then, seniority was. And since Bob had none, because territorial delegates had none, he was neither above or below – well he was below everybody else in the Congress. He didn't have a vote. So he couldn't spoil anybody's legislation. Everyone realized he couldn't be for it because he had no vote. He had a very pleasing personality. People liked him. Why did Sam Rayburn change his mind? All I could get was he liked Bob. What was the issue with Lyndon Johnson? He liked Bob.

Narrator:

On January 3, 1945, Bob Bartlett of Alaska took his seat as territorial delegate. Bartlett was an official member of Congress, but his position had no voting privileges.

Joe Josephson:

You have a fellow who has to learn the art of achieving something when he can't trade a vote. There's no quid pro quo possible. So he has to do it by dint of relationships and substance. Because he can't do it – he's not a horse trader. He can't be a horse trader. He's got nothing to trade.

Bill Foster:

He had a very perceptive view of what the interest of each member was. And he could spin it to his advantage in trying to explain the importance of that legislation to a member, even if you were from Iowa.

Narrator:

Alaska was regulated by the amended Organic Act of 1912, which limited all branches of territorial government.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Alaska, as a territory, was never granted the essential home rule privileges enjoyed by every other territory in the history of the United States. The Congress would never permit us to have our own court system. The Congress would never give us any land. The Congress would never even permit us to take care of our mentally ill. The Congress gave us back in 1912 this so-called Organic Act. But a reading of this document persuades one very speedily that it's a law, if you please, of limitations rather than grants. Because it says not so often, you may do so and so, but you can't do this and that.

Terrence Cole:

Bartlett was an old fashioned liberal democrat. And he really thought Alaskans needed to have a voice in Congress. The American ideal was having a voice in representing yourself. And you know it just so happened to turn out that he was actually that voice for Alaska and he articulated that vision better than anyone else.

Archival Footage:

As a delegate you had no vote I take it.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

No vote at all.

Archival Footage:

Is that very hard? To sit there and talk and listen and not vote?

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

It isn't hard for me as a person. It's hard for me though when I contemplate that the people I represent don't have the representation they're entitled to as American citizens. Because we pay all the federal taxes that other Americans do and we're bound by all the federal laws. And yet we don't have a right to vote.

Archival Footage:

Here's a case of taxation without representation is it?

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Precisely. That's just what it is.

Narrator:

Every territorial delegate, governor and legislature had fought for more autonomy for Alaska. And every attempt had failed.

Terrence Cole:

One of the most dramatic episodes in Alaskan political history, and Bartlett was there, was in early May 1954. When a group of Alaskans from Operation Statehood, a little more than a dozen Alaskans, filed into the Oval Office to make the appeal to Eisenhower directly to support Alaska's statehood. The man who introduced it was Wally Hickel who was the GOP national committeeman for Alaska.

But he, after just a few pleasantries and opened the meeting, turned it over to Alaska territorial senator Johnny Butrovich who'd grown up with Bartlett in Fairbanks. As Bartlett describes the scene, they were in a semicircle around the front of Eisenhower's desk. And Ike was leaning against the front of the desk and it started very cordially. But Butrovich started launching into why Alaskans should not be denied statehood.

And as Bartlett and everyone else said at the time, Eisenhower's face got red. First it got pink. Then it got sort of deep pink. And then it was really, really red. And by the time he finished talking he said, “I thought Eisenhower was on the verge of a stroke. And that he was gonna have a fit of apoplexy.” He was so mad at Butrovich. There was so much confusion and mystery surrounding what Ike's really true beliefs were that the Alaskans felt relieved that finally somebody had talked to what Bartlett called, Mr. Big. He said Butrovich talked to Mr. Big. He said he looked the leader of the free world straight in the eye and he let him have it.

Archival Footage:

And yet it seems to me if I'm right that President Eisenhower didn't mention statehood for Alaska in his annual message this year or last year to the Congress. Is that right?

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

That is true. And we regret it very much. We don't know why the administration is not now endorsing statehood for Alaska. The Republican platform came out for statehood for both Alaska and Hawaii. President Truman endorsed it for both territories. And we hope the administration will come around to the viewpoint that we ought to have statehood now.

Narrator:

Congress adjourned in summer 1955 with another of Bob's statehood bills buried in the House Rules Committee. That winter a constitutional convention assembled in Fairbanks Alaska. Its delegates wrote a state constitution and adopted a strategy modeled on Tennessee's bid for statehood. They sent elected representatives to Congress to request or demand recognition as a state.

The Tennessee plan drew national attention to Alaska's campaign for statehood but not the result Alaska had hoped. Statehood critics continued to prevail.

Joe Josephson:

In a certain way maybe the critics of statehood were the most helpful to Alaska because they questioned Alaska's ability to be self-sufficient. The result was the most generous provisions for land and resources to help the new baby walk that any state had ever seen. So you maybe want to some day tip our hats to those skeptics who said that Alaska couldn't make it on its own.

Narrator:

And initially, the skeptics were numerous.

John Whitehead:

Most people who come to Congress want to do the right thing. They have a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ethic somewhere in there. That what I came here for was to promote democracy, freedom, equality. What I found from when I talked to Congressmen was that many of them said, “I initially knew nothing about Alaska. So I didn't see why I should participate in a vote for it. But then someone came and had a chat with me. And I became convinced that this was something that ought to be happening.”

Narrator:

The changes in sentiment were gradual. But suddenly, a mountain moved. The powerful Speaker of the House, Texan Sam Rayburn, decided to support statehood for Alaska. Years later, when he was asked what made him change his mind, Sam Rayburn was brief. “Two words,” he said. “Bob Bartlett.” Even President Eisenhower began to voice grudging support for Alaska statehood. Only Chair of the House Rules Committee, Howard Smith, continued his opposition.

Terrence Cole:

The anti-statehooders, like Howard Smith, would say anything and do anything and adopt virtually any position. They wanted to stop statehood. Period. Fearful that Alaska would break the hold of the solid south on civil rights legislation.

Narrator:

Fed up with the delays, one California representative threatened Smith with a little used bypass procedure that allowed each member of the House to hold the floor for a full hour.

John Whitehead:

This was not currently in the procedural rules of the House of Representatives because it had been omitted cause there weren't gonna be any more states. But some researchers with the Library of Congress found that that procedure had never been eliminated. It just wasn't printed in the current procedures book. So Rayburn said, “Okay, let's try this technique.”

Narrator:

On the twenty-first of May, speaker after speaker took the floor for an hour a piece to endorse consideration of the Alaska statehood bill. Facing the prospect of more than 400 hours of individual speeches, statehood opponents backed down, ending the debate on Monday May 26. The statehood bill passed a full vote of the House of Representatives.

John Whitehead:

Except for the fact that southern Democrats vote against everything having to do with statehood, there are no other normal political significant factors. Like blue collar versus white collar, rural versus urban. There are no significant factors except for one. ELB. Those people who knew Bob Bartlett. It is just astounding. It is the fondness for Bob Bartlett that is the most significant factor in the votes for Alaska statehood.

Narrator:

Now it was on to the Senate, where President Johnson assured Bartlett that he was ready to permit an Alaska Statehood Act to reach the floor for debate and vote.

Joe Josephson:

He comes out with a smile on his face and says, “Guess what? We're gonna get this thing voted on.”

Narrator:

At 8:02 Eastern Standard Time, the Senate roll call vote ended and spontaneous applause broke out.

Joe Josephson:

I have a very clear memory of June 30, 1958. Impressionable young guy in the gallery when the Senate votes for statehood. The Alaskans in Washington move from the gallery to the Capitol chapel. The most moving part about it was that Neva Egan sang the Alaska Flag Song to this assembled group. It was a really, really impressionable event for me to be there.

Narrator:

Bob missed that moment. He'd raced back to his office after the successful vote. Although wire services were broadcasting the news around the world, Bob had promised people back home he'd call if the bill passed. He was on the phone most of the night.

Archival Footage:

With blazing headlines, Alaska newspapers heralded the climax of an American drama. The creation of a new state. The White House January 3, 1959. Birthday of the first new state in half a century. In an historic ceremony, the thirty-fourth president of the Untied States was about to proclaim

Terrence Cole:

The achievement of Alaska statehood in the 1950s is a great American success story. In the same sense that the achievement of every new state, starting with Vermont and Tennessee back in the 1700s is a great American success story. Because the addition of every new state required an examination of the fundamental principles upon which the United States is based.

Narrator:

Record numbers of Alaskans cast ballots in November 1958. Almost 80 percent of eligible voters turned out to elect representatives to Congress. The people chose former territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, and territorial delegate, Bob Bartlett, as their senators.

Archival Footage:

And we all know that you and he were elected on the 25th day of November 1958 as Alaska's first two members of the Senate of the United States. Now you are the senior senator. Ernest Gruening is the junior senator. You are serving not a full six year term but a two year term. And he is serving not a six year term but a four year term. Now you just tell us, because we're interested in history and you were a part of it, how all that came about.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Well, I will tell you how it came about Harry. But before I do, let me note that Ernest Gruening is some years my senior. But we've arrived at a situation now where he calls me pop and I call him son because of my seniority in the Senate. Which was arrived at in a manner that might not be approved of by some. But we were told when we did it was essential. And we were instructed to flip a coin to determine which of us should be a senior and which junior. And I went up to Ernest Gruening's office this particular day when here were maybe 50 newspaper men and TV people. And an Associated Press newspaper man flipped the coin. And I thereby became the senior senator from the state of Alaska and for no other reason.

Archival Footage:

And then tell us please how it was determined that you would serve two years and Ernest Gruening only four years and the normal full term as a member of the United States Senate is six years.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and the Whip, Mike Mansfield introduced us to the Senate and to the galleries. And then the Secretary of the Senate appeared before us with a little box. And in that box were three slips of paper. One for a term of two years. One for a term of four years and one for six. Well I reached surely and swiftly there and came right out with a two year term. And thereby became the senior junior senator. First such in the history of the United States. And Ernest Gruening became the first junior senior senator.

Archival Footage:

Now Senator, this week you've cast your first votes ever for the state of Alaska. How does it feel?

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Well it felt wonderful Mr. Strasser. It was strange. You know I've been over in the House of Representatives for 14 years as a non voting delegate. And I didn't have to pay any attention to these bells ringing and the quorum calls. And now I do. First vote I cast was a vote to adjourn.

Narrator:

Eisenhower had signed the Alaska Statehood Bill. But within the year a new president was at the helm. Defeating Vice-president Richard Nixon, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was elected Commander in Chief. His vice-president was Lyndon Banes Johnson of Texas. The presidential elections of 1960 marked a power shift toward the Democrats. And, in the long run, a turning point in the prospects for both the state of Alaska and Bob Bartlett's career in the Senate.

In November 1963, Bob was in Washington, DC during the closing weeks of the ninetieth Congress. President Kennedy was on a campaign swing through the American West. As the nation mourned the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the government began its transition to a new administration. Lyndon Johnson was well known to Bob Bartlett. LBJ had played an influential role in Alaska's successful bid for statehood. Bartlett had no idea that only four months after the inauguration he'd again be grateful for Johnson's help.

In Washington, DC it was early morning March 28th when the phones started ringing. Alaskans living in the capital city were stunned by a barrage of calls from the north. One of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history had struck Alaska. It measured 8.4 on the Richter scale and triggered a tsunami that caused death and devastation as far away as Hawaii and California.

Vic Fischer:

I went with Bartlett out to Andrews Air Force Base. And by then Ernest Gruening was there and there were reporters from New York Times and CBS and the various other networks. As we were going back to the terminal across the tarmac there was Air Force One. And so McDermott from the White House called LBJ. And Johnson, who had just been flown to his ranch in Texas said, “Yes, you can have the plane so long as you have it back in time to pick me up real early on Monday morning.”

Archival Footage:

The President's been awakened twice in the night for early bulletins on the emergency. And at dawn he's officially declared Alaska a major disaster area. Lent his personal plane to Senators Gruening and Bartlett. House Representative Rivers on the West Coast when the disaster struck will be coming in on a separate flight. With the two senators, Edward McDermott, the director of the Office of Emergency Planning, responsible for coordinating all federal assistance in natural disasters. Their assignment, to tour the stricken areas, make a firsthand survey of the damage. Then fly directly back to Washington to make a personal report to the president.

Vic Fischer:

The president just instructed all agencies to do what had to be done and Congress gave the necessary authorities where it was needed. They appropriated the money. And each of the departments just went beyond anything they'd ever done. It was like a war time situation. It was phenomenal what happened. We were able to do in 60 days what it usually took a year, two years to accomplish.

Narrator:

The swift federal response was a reminder of how Bob Bartlett's relationship with Lyndon Johnson helped Alaska and how hard Bob worked for his constituents.

Casey Thompson:

He stopped and really just devoted himself to that issue and trying to do everything he could to help. And he did. I mean he did an incredible job. I think he really was the stand out person. At the time I was just amazed that he suddenly devoted so much energy and resources.

David Price:

He was a model of how to tend to constituency and how to make sure that you didn't get so carried away by national issues and by whatever causes you're involved in here that you forget who sent you here. I mean he was – he knew how to put first things first in terms of looking out for his home state. And making sure that the staff was focused that way as well.

Joe Josephson:

We had a rule that any letter that came to our office had to be answered within 24 hours. Even if it was just an acknowledgement. Thank you for your concern. I will take it up with the, you know passport division or something. But the voter had to get an acknowledgement; the citizen had to get an acknowledgment within 24 hours. Can you imagine that rule being imposed anymore? That was a principle of his that he felt that everybody had to get an answer within 24 hours.

Claus-M. Naske:

He had a magic touch with people. I mean he would remember people's names. He would inquire about the family relationships. And he would always write notes. It was so nice to meet you in some roadhouse on the Richardson Highway. And you know the weather was miserable but I hope you and Johnny made it home safely. And you know cordially Bob Bartlett.

Bill Foster:

His popularity was based upon the letters that he wrote. The huge letters that he got out. The numerous times that he would visit the little fishing villages and talk to them. The way that he would go out of his way when anyone from Alaska came in to the office. It was their day.

Terrence Cole:

People had enormous affection for Bob Bartlett. An enormous affection. And one reason they had this enormous affection for him was, of course his own emotional makeup. And the fact that he had great empathy. But you can't lose sight of the fact that he was also a skillful and calculating politician. You cannot be a master of the legislative process unless you are calculating. In the sense that you've calculated the odds. You've calculated the danger. You've calculated your position. And because you're trying to get a piece of legislation passed.

Narrator:

Over the years, much of Bob's legislative work was innovative with wide ranging impact. He led efforts to pass the Consumer Radiation Safety Act, which shielded patients from medical and dental x-ray exposure. He was instrumental in protecting American fisheries by extending territorial water boundaries from 3 to 12 miles. Closer to home, Bartlett guided the Omnibus Statehood Act. Which outlined all the physical and administrative details needed to launch the new state of Alaska. He also developed the groundbreaking Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act to reform treatment of people coping with a range of mental disorders. The state had distinctive needs and Bob used his Washington influence to help build its infrastructure.

Willie Hensley:

Bartlett was very instrumental in housing. And he was the prime force in providing funding for some of the early Alaska Native housing efforts. They, with the help of Senator Bartlett, built the earliest rural housing programs and also the major housing effort that was done in Bethel. Where they built, you know they were building a house a day there for a period of time.

Terrence Cole:

But to me, of all of Bartlett's legislation the one that I find most representative of the man is one of the bills known as the Bartlett Act. Which clearly comes through the inspiration of his administrative assistant, Hugh Gallagher. Who was a polio victim, confined to a wheelchair. Hugh Gallagher lived in a world where the two inch curb could mean the difference between getting into a building or not. And it was because of the Bartlett Act, which required new federal buildings to be wheelchair accessible. Now this is long before the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is some almost three decades later.

Narrator:

The most contentious foreign policy issue of the 1960s was America's military involvement in Vietnam.

Archival Footage:
President Johnson

My fellow Americans, as president and commander in chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States' ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.

Narrator:

What became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the US House unanimously and passed the US Senate by a vote of 88 to 2. The two no votes were from Wayne Morris of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska.

Terrence Cole:

Now people have discussed why Gruening did this because it was political suicide. And Johnson couldn't fathom it. His reaction after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was, “What does Gruening want? I gave him all that money for the earthquake.”

Mike Gravel:

From Lyndon Johnson's point of view, Bob Bartlett was his kind of a legislator. His kind of man. You know you could cut a deal with him. He was loyal. He stayed with you. And he walked the talk. That's not Ernest Gruening. Ernest Gruening could talk and he might walk in a different direction. So this goes to the heart of the matter of the two different individuals.

Vic Fischer:

Ernest was bombastic. He was out front. His ego was always present. Bob was almost the invisible person. He might be much more effective because of the way he was able to work with other people. But he was not necessarily there when the credit was given out.

David Price:

His outward appearance was one of great affability and kind of easygoingness. And an ability to get along with almost anybody. He did not have intellectual pretentions or use lofty rhetoric. In some ways his style contrasted very sharply with Ernest Gruening.

Terrence Cole:

When Gruening walked into a room he was always the smartest guy in the room. And he pointed out at least three times to everybody in the room that he was the smartest guy in the room. Now Bob Bartlett never made any pretense of being the smartest guy in the room. Never. But in fact, he often was.

David Price:

That was Bob's style. No question about it. And it paid off handsomely for Alaska.

Willie Hensley:

My impression was that Bartlett saw himself as sort of the work horse. You know of the two senators. That he tended to the bread and butter issues. You know of Alaskans. And I think many of us from rural Alaska also felt that way. Gruening had a mind that was far ranging and his interests were far ranging. And Alaska was sort of just one of his interests. And my impression was that you know Alaska was Senator Bartlett's interest.

Vic Fischer:

Bob was a real Alaskan. He had his roots in Alaska. He knew every part of Alaska. He knew people all over. He communicated with people all over. He took the pulse of Alaska all the time.

Narrator:

Still, Bob seemed surprised when a brash newcomer named Mike Gravel challenged Ernest Gruening in the 1968 Senate primary.

Mary Nordale:

And I don't think that either Bob or Ernest Gruening realized the depth of the sentiment about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It was a huge issue up here. And that was the big thing.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

On August 27 Alaskans in the primary election chose Mike Gravel as the Democratic candidate for the US Senate over Ernest Gruening. The voters spoke.

Narrator:

Gruening's supporters launched a write-in campaign to challenge Gravel and Republican candidate Elmer Rasmuson in the general election. Gruening fully expected Bob's endorsement and help with the write in effort.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

I have put personal considerations aside in this decision. The time comes when a man must speak out. I speak out now. I support the Democratic majority. I support Mike Gravel.

Katie Hurley:

He was just devastated. When Bob endorsed Mike Gravel and he came to talk about it cause he couldn't figure out why. And I told him that I thought he was under medication. And that it was not the real Bob talking cause I just couldn't – it was heartbreaking to see.

Narrator:

The changing political scene was unsettling. But there was a more fundamental concern. Bob's health was failing.

Bill Foster:

Well, we knew he was sick. I mean we knew he had been sick for some time. He was having difficulty with his heart. It was just a matter of it getting more and more serious as it went along.

David Price:

He was slowing down some in the mid 60s. And had some episodes. Some hospitalization. And there's no question his heart problems were closing in on him in that period. But he stayed active and he kept a good spirit.

D.A. Bartlett:

Well, he wasn't gonna slow down just because he had a little heart trouble.

Narrator:

But his poor health became obvious in campaign ads for Mike Gravel.

Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Mike, you posses an ideology. You have a dedication to your people. That's priceless. Retain that. Keep on the same path that you've marked out for yourself. Keep on the same track, Mike.

Narrator:

Bob needed coronary bypass surgery. The Cleveland Clinic had performed America's first bypass the previous year.

Claus-M. Naske:

You really had a hard time. And he had these constant attacks. And they went to the Caribbean and they went here and there. And you know they couldn't find any rest. And he was, you know really in bad shape. And then finally the decision, you know to have that bypass which was experimental in Cleveland. And he has a note to his physician. You know he says, “Don't let your scalpel slip because the law has changed. And the governor, current governor, Hickel, will appoint a Republican in my place.”

Narrator:

As he was recovering from the operation, Bartlett suffered a series of cardiac arrests. Then, he seemed to rally and on December 8 his doctors expressed cautious optimism.

D.A. Bartlett:

It was going real well at first. He had a very good vein that they'd taken and they said he was doing fine. But he just started slipping.

Joe Josephson:

You know you go to some funerals and there's a sense that people are there out of duty or sort of show the flag. I don't think that was true. I think this was people really feeling a friend was lost. Bob Bartlett was not a great speaker. Great writer, but not a great speaker. Not photogenic. Enjoyed retail politics one on one, you know. Now in the age of media, blogs and all of that, he's certainly not a slick article. He's anti-slick. So I don't know whether he would be appreciated in the same way. And I don't know whether a Bob Bartlett would want to try to work in the present technological and political climate that we have. Here's the problem that I worry about. Can there be another Bob Bartlett?

Archival Audio:
Bob Bartlett

Alaska has been my life. Alaska is my dream. Here in this northland my parents came and were married. Here I grew up and was married. And it is here that one of my daughters and my grandchildren make their home. You have greatly honored me in the past. I most sincerely hope I have been worthy.

[Music]


Archival Footage:
Bob Bartlett

Seems sort of queer addressing an audience of Alaska over the TV. And this shows Alaska is developing in these last few years. And I want to say that there's a very pretty little blonde in Anchorage with a dimple and with a nice smile. And her name is Kay. And if she gets any more loose teeth I just hope she keeps them there till I can come and pull them out. I shouldn't do that on a campaign, but I can't resist it.

[End of Program]



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