Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

April 3, 1998

MONROE SWEETLAND'S "long and illustrious career in public service" has earned him a place in the Labor Hall of Fame established by the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

Sweetland, 88, who lives in Milwaukie, began his activist career in 1933 when he was elected chairman of the left-of-center National Student League for Industrial Democracy while attending Cornell University in New York State. His work for the LID brought him to speak on college campuses in Oregon, his native state, in the mid-1930s. He decided to remain here to help form the Oregon Commonwealth Federation, a liberal political organization of labor unions and progressive farmers.

In 1941, with World War II under way in Europe, he accepted a job as an assistant to the famed needle trades labor leader Sidney Hillman at the federal War Production Board in Washington, D.C. In 1942, Hillman and Auto Workers Union leader Walter Reuther asked Sweetland to become the executive secretary of the War Relief Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). "Its concerns," recalled Sweetland, "and those of the parallel component of the AFL (American Federation of Labor) expanded to include helping union workers deal with the dislocations occasioned by wartime mobilization, and thus evolved into what we know today as the AFL-CIO Community Services Department."

SWEETLAND WORKED for the CIO committee until 1943 when he joined the American Red Cross and went to the South Pacific war zone to direct the ARC's operations on Okinawa and Eniwetok.

After the war, Sweetland and his wife, the former Lilly McGrath of New Jersey, whom he'd married in 1933 while they were at Syracuse University, decided to make Oregon their home. Monroe had been born on Jan. 20, 1910 in Salem, where his father, a physician and a political conservative, was athletic director and football coach at Willamette University. Although his family had moved to Michigan while Monroe was still in high school, he felt a continuing tie to Oregon because his mother's parents lived in Hood River, where they owned an apple orchard.

In 1946, Sweetland bought a weekly newspaper in the Clackamas County community of Molalla. Later he acquired a weekly in Newport on the Oregon coast. By 1949 he'd sold those papers and purchased the larger Milwaukie Review in Clackamas County.

While pursuing his career as a weekly newspaper editor and publisher, Sweetland plunged into Democratic politics. In 1948, he won a statewide election making him the Oregon committeeman on the Democratic National Committee. In that post he and others built the Democratic Party into the majority party in Oregon.

SWEETLAND BEGAN his career in the Oregon Legislature by winning a Clackamas County state representative seat in 1952. In 1954 he was elected to the State Senate. At Salem he championed the development of Portland State College, now PSU, and worked to establish Oregon's community college system. He also was an advocate of legislation to benefit working men and women and their families, and sponsored civil rights bills.

Sweetland made two runs at the secretary of state's office, losing to Republican Mark Hatfield in 1956 and to another Republican in 1960. Hatfield went on to the governorship and later to the U.S. Senate, from which he recently retired. In 1965, Sweetland left Oregon to take a job as a political and lobbying field representative with the National Education Association at its regional office in the San Francisco area. He handled the teachers' organization's lobbying and political activities in 13 Western states. He retired from that job in 1975 but remained in California operating a small business until 1994 when he returned to Oregon.

His wife, Lilly, who died in 1985, had a long career as a union organizer, federal wage and hour official and an advocate for civil rights and education. Sweetland's family includes two daughters and three grandchildren.

SINCE HIS RETURN to Oregon, Sweetland has received a number of awards from organizations wanting to thank him for his contributions in the decades of the 1940s, '50s and '60s. These include Portland State University, Oregon Democratic Party, American Civil Liberties Union, Japanese-American Citizens League and, now, the AFL-CIO's Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

AN EYE DISEASE, which necessitates his using a long white cane, has slowed him down but has not stopped him from being active in public affairs. To the surprise of many, Sweetland filed as the only Democratic candidate for his old Senate seat in the Oregon Legislature. He was in the crowd of politicos in the State Capitol at Salem on the March 10 filing day deadline. When an expected candidate did not appear, Sweetland stepped forward to fill the breach.

"You can never retire from citizenship," said the 88-year-old candidate in explaining why he filed.

KENNETH STARR, the Whitewater, etc. special persecutor, pretty much gets a free ride on the media's merry-go-round. And that punctures the myth about the so-called "liberal media."

Because Starr, who's trying to bring down Democratic President Bill Clinton, is an extreme right-winger who was picked for his job by a cabal of mossback Republican senators, and far-right federal judges who'd been appointed by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Starr has made the special persecutor's office an almost permanent branch of government, one that is dedicated to overturning another branch, the presidency.

Remember Robert Fiske? He was the moderate Republican who was the first special counsel appointed to look into allegations of wrongdoing by Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1970s Whitewater real estate development in Arkansas. But Fiske wasn't partisan enough to satisfy the right-wingers so they dumped him and brought in Starr.

STARR'S BEEN GIVEN a hunting license to bag a sitting president by Republicans who've never gotten over the fact that their hero Richard Nixon was a crook.

The TV newsies love to show us Starr and his entourage leaving a java joint, paper cups of coffee in hand, heading off to work on Saturday mornings. Our tax dollars at work.

Starr says a few words, a smile on his face, a baseball cap on his head, wearing blue jeans and a windbreaker. Very folksy. Not at all like a right-wing demon who's operating two federal grand juries as star chambers of inquisition.

Since Starr's appointment in 1994 -- yes, four years ago -- he and his large staff have cost taxpayers an estimated $60 million.

THE 51-YEAR OLD Starr, a lawyer in the Reagan and Bush administrations, pockets over a million a year as a Washington, D.C.-based partner in a big Chicago law firm whose clients include a major tobacco company. At one point, in addition to being the special persecutor, Starr was representing Big Tobacco, plus getting paid for teaching law and for serving on nearly 20 corporate boards.

Although it is against the law for prosecutors to leak information given to grand juries, leaks from Starr's star chambers continue. The media, which gets its scoops from these leaks, isn't about to blow the whistle.

STARR'S MODUS OPERANDI is "harassment and persecution" in the words of Whitewater figure Susan McDougal whom Starr had put in a federal lockup because, as she has said, she "wouldn't lie to him about Bill Clinton."


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