Peter DeFazio, the 4th District Congressman from Springfield since 1987, was unanimously voted the recipient of the Integrity in Politics Award by the board of the Wayne Morse Historical Park Corporation (WMHPC) in 2019.
And it took until Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, for DeFazio to actually receive the award.
There were detours along the way. COVID, obviously, played a role for the delay, as did the fact that DeFazio announced at roughly this time two years ago that he was running for another term in 2020, and the WMHPC board decided to temporarily shelve a presentation so as to not jeopardize its 501(c)(3) status by appearing partisan.
Yet the board — joined by as many as 30 others at the invitation-only event on a breezy late morning at the University of Oregon Law School courtyard — finally had reason to celebrate DeFazio’s tenure and the legacy of Wayne Morse, Oregon’s “Tiger in the Senate” from 1945 to 1969.
“He’s a colleague I respect and value,” Kitty Piercy, the former three-term mayor of Eugene who was the emcee, said of DeFazio, adding that governing is not about perfection, but “it’s about forthright honesty,” a trait the congressman has demonstrated for years.
DeFazio “has exemplified what integrity is all about,” echoed Johnny Earl, president of the WMHPC.
The Morse name has gained some traction in recent weeks as the U.S. has now completely withdrawn from the near 20-year war in Afghanistan. Morse was one of just two U.S. senators in 1964 to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which paved the way for American escalation in the Vietnam War.
It was a fact not lost on DeFazio as he opened his remarks.
“It is symbolic that we’re here today,” he noted.
The congressman, who served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, recounted that throughout his college years (and as his brother served in Vietnam) he was, like many, consumed with the Vietnam War.
He leaned on the words of Morse, who argued after the Senate vote that “Our government has no right to send American boys to their death in any battlefield in the absence of a declaration of war… I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right.”
“He was an inspiration to me during the war,” DeFazio said.
DeFazio conceded that he voted for military intervention in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, but only to target and eliminate Osama bin Laden, an al-Qaida founder who was the soul of the terrorist organization that killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.
Instead, the U.S. got the 20-year war, and DeFazio now said he wants to wrangle war powers away from the president and have it return to Congress. He also pointed out his continued work to curtail big pharmaceutical companies as well as his ongoing work on the infrastructure bill.
“It’s an honor to receive this today,” DeFazio said, “and the work is still in progress.”
DeFazio is the 11th recipient of the IPA since the award was established in 1987 and given to Rose Bird, chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Recent honorees for the award include U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, California, in 2002 (the only member of Congress to vote against military intervention in Afghanistan) and Oregon U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, who shared the award in 2018.
This story has been updated. Bin Laden was a founder of al-Qaida, not the Taliban.