Contrarian Congressman Charles O. Porter, 86
Friday, January 6, 2006
Charles O. Porter, 86, an Oregon Democrat who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then spent decades working as a lawyer to fight for his beliefs, died Jan. 1 in Eugene, Ore. He had Alzheimer's disease.
A member of Congress from 1957 to 1961, Rep. Porter endorsed several unpopular ideas, including admitting China to the United Nations and trading with China in nonstrategic materials. He also backed disarmament and called for a halt to nuclear testing.
In 1958, after Rep. Porter was warmly welcomed in Venezuela, the Roseburg (Ore.) News-Review wrote that "Porter's speeches sound as if they were made by Khrushchev."
Rep. Porter, who opposed the Vietnam War, unsuccessfully sought reelection several times.
On a local level, Rep. Porter is perhaps best remembered for his fight to remove a hilltop Christian cross from Skinner Butte. He had sought to have the cross removed ever since it was erected by two Eugene business people in 1964.
The first lawsuit to remove the cross was filed in 1965, and the issue wasn't decided until 1997, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the cross unconstitutional.
"My father, who was a Christian, would say his greatest accomplishment would have been taking the cross down from Skinner Butte," Rep. Porter's son, Sam Porter, told the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper.
As a lawyer, Rep. Porter fought against a nuclear plant in the Eugene area and the use of ratepayers' money to promote it; for tubal ligations by choice for social and economic reasons; for decriminalization of marijuana; and for statutory status reviews of institutionalized mentally retarded people.
In 1975, Rep. Porter demanded under the Freedom of Information Act that the CIA turn over the file it was keeping on him. The 222-page document dealt largely with his peace activities and his efforts to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In 2001, he wrote a resolution seeking to impeach the five Supreme Court justices who voted to stop the presidential ballot recount in Florida. He said their decision was transparently political and "tarnished the integrity" of the court.
Charles Orlando Porter was born in Klamath Falls, Ore., on April 4, 1919. He was a 1941 graduate of Harvard University and a 1947 graduate of its law school. He was an Army Air Forces veteran of World War II.
He practiced law in Eugene until winning election to the House. He resumed his practice after returning to Oregon.
His wife, Pricilla Porter, died in 2002.
Survivors include four children and five grandchildren.