Warren Magnuson; Served 44 Years in Congress

Times Staff Writer

Former Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), who served 44 years in Congress to become one of the most influential legislators of his time, died Saturday at his home in Seattle. He was 84.

Death resulted from congestive heart failure due to complications from diabetes, a family spokesman said.

Known to colleagues and constituents alike as “Maggie,” the portly Democrat was elected to the first of six Senate terms in 1944 after serving eight years in the House of Representatives.

Committee Chairman

Rising to the chairmanship of the Commerce Committee, which he headed for 23 years, and later chairing the powerful appropriations Committee, he was renowned for looking after the economic interests of Seattle and his home state, providing funds for military bases, cancer research centers and other federal projects in Washington.

Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who had been a close colleague in the Senate, once joked that Magnuson had a policy of dividing federal money evenly--"half for Washington state and half for the rest of the country.”


Some called him “the senator from Boeing,” a reference to Seattle’s giant aerospace firm and defense contractor. He inherited the nickname from the late Henry M. Jackson, another defense-minded Democratic senator from his state. Together, they were called “the Gold Dust Twins” for the federally funded projects and defense contracts they steered back home.

Magnuson was defeated for re-election by Republican Slade Gorton in 1980. He later remarked on a visit to the Capitol how traditions of respect for seniority seemed to be fading.

“There isn’t the discipline, there isn’t the courtesy there was when I was here,” he said.

Legislative Accomplishments

Along with his devotion to home-state interests, Magnuson helped speed passage in the 1960s and 1970s of landmark legislation dealing with auto safety, flammable fabrics, cigarette labeling and truth in packaging. His environmental victories included passage of laws specifying penalties and cleanup measures for oil spills and establishing national standards for drinking water.

A consummate political insider, Magnuson believed that back-room deals and cloakroom arm-twisting were far more important than Senate oratory. Never an accomplished speaker, he once said that “if you’ve got the votes, you don’t need a speech; and if you need a speech, you don’t have the votes.”

He divided the Senate into “show horses” and “work horses” and considered himself in the second category.

Magnuson, born in Moorhead, Minn., on April 12, 1905, was orphaned before he was a month old and raised by a Swedish couple whose name he took. He attended the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University before entering the University of Washington in 1924, where he received a law degree in 1929.

Surviving are his wife, Jermaine, and a daughter, Juanita Garrison.