Norman Mineta: A Watergate Baby Turned Statesman
Today, our country lost one of the Watergate babies, perhaps better known as the Congressional class of ’74. Norman Mineta, who died today at age 90, a former Mayor of San Jose, CA, was one of that class of 75 Democrats who swept into office as a result of Richard Nixon’s downfall, and added leftist muscle to the Congress.
Mineta and his Congressional class— including Jim Oberstar, Steve Solarz, Elliott Levitas, Jim Blanchard, Bob Carr, Dick Ottinger, Tom Downey and Marty Russo—recognized their shared bond, as well as the reforms, that came about as a result of the Watergate experience. These reform-minded idealists changed the practices of the Democratic Party on seniority and open meetings. I was invited to their reunion at the Cosmos Club in 2005. There were too many egos in that group for one designated speaker. But going around the room, many of the former members as they got up to talk began with, “Apologies to Norm Mineta”. .. and then continued to say something negative about the current administration. Nevertheless, Mineta, a Democrat from California serving as Transportation Secretary in the George W. Bush administration, was treated with respect unlike the partisanship of today.
Some members of that class moved on to higher political office; others to powerful lobbying positions. Some went from bomb-throwers and calling for accountability, changing seniority rules, open meetings and shaking the place up to being some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mineta turned down President Clinton’s offer back in ’92 to be Transportation Secretary and went on to Chair the powerful House Public Works and Transportation Committee. He later became Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration. Mineta was the first Asian-American to hold a cabinet post.
The feeling those Members of Congress—The Watergate babies— had for one another was one of camaraderie and mutual support. And there was no one as respected on both sides of the aisle as Norman Mineta. He was a true gentleman who left an aviation legacy.