This is the grave of Brock Adams.
Born Brockman Adams in Atlanta, Georgia in 1927, Adams grew up in the Northwest, where his parents moved shortly after his birth. Sensibly, he used Brock instead of Brockman. He first lived in Portland and then Seattle. He joined the Navy immediately upon graduation from high school in 1944 and stayed two years before being mustered out in 1946. He then went to the University of Washington, that hive of scum and villainy. He was student body president there and among other things, he introduced another member of student body leadership to her future husband and they became the parents of Bill Gates. He then went to law school, practiced after passing the bar, and became U.S. Attorney for the District of Western Washington after Kennedy became president in 1961.
Adams was a rising star and a strong Democrat. So it’s not too shocking that he found his way to politics. He became Kennedy’s campaign manager for western Washington in 1960 and he fell in love with politics that year. He decided to run for Congress in 1964 and won. He was soon a big rising star within Congress. He was seen as leadership material from almost the moment he entered the body. He was the first chair of the Budget Committee when it was formed in 1974. Some thought he might be Speaker someday. But he had other ambitions. People were somewhat surprised when he accepted Jimmy Carter’s offer to be Secretary of Transportation in 1977. While an important position, Transportation is hardly a prominent Cabinet position and not that many people who have served in that role used it as a springboard for something bigger, though obviously that is what Pete Buttigieg has in mind. But Buttigieg came out of a different place–a mid-sized city mayor with a surprisingly effective presidential bid but who didn’t have an obvious landing spot after that. Adams was already a big deal in Congress.
As Transportation Secretary, Adams was one of the only real progressive figures in the Carter administration, which was embracing neoliberalism at a speedy rate. Notably, conservatives loathed him but the Naderites loved him and he was one of the only people in the administration that those reformers trusted after about the end of 1977. He was a strong opponent of Carter’s mission to deregulate the airline industry. That caused a lot of attention between the president and his Cabinet secretary. He wanted to increase airport security in the hijacking era, which in retrospect it would have been smart for the government to make more seriously. He also was a major proponent of car safety, particularly calling for mandatory airbags, higher fuel standards, and American cars that didn’t suck. He openly attacked the poor quality of the auto industry in comparison to the Japanese industry. He stated publicly, “In recent years, the American automobile industry, I regret to say, has acquired a reputation for imitation, not innovation. The companies have been collaborators, not competitors.” No wonder Nader loved him and conservatives hated him. Carter came to dislike this liberal because Carter disliked all liberals. Adams left the administration in 1979 and just went back to his law practice and of course some of that yummy lobbying money.
In 1986, Adams decided to take on the incumbent Republican senator Slade Gorton. I really despise Gorton. Unfortunately, when Adams narrowly defeated Gorton, the right-winger Indian hater later returned to the Senate. But people were excited that Adams won that race. He was a good liberal and it seemed like Washington might have another legend rising, someone that could be another Scoop Jackson or Warren Magnuson. He was a good senator too. He was a strong conservationist and he took on the oil industry after the Exxon Valdez disaster. He also led the fight to stop government plans to turn the Hanford Nuclear Reservation into a big waste dump and he was able to stop that. He was also a strong proponent of a liberal foreign policy too, attacking the Reagan administration’s many terrible things and forcing the Senate to take a vote on supporting George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in the Gulf War.
However…..Adams had a bit of a rape problem. I mean, he was a habitual sexual harasser too, but when that didn’t work for him, he was happy to use force. Now, the Senate was full of absolute reprobate scumbags in these years. There was Bob Packwood. There was Ted Kennedy. There was Chris Dodd. There was Strom Thurmond. There was a culture of utter contempt for women. For lots of these guys, they saw the women who crossed their path as prey. Of all these senators, probably none were more overtly predatory than Adams. He was a big date rape drug guy. Several women reported by the early 90s that he had drugged and raped them. In fact, as early as his Senate run, there was a public accusation of drugging and raping the daughter of a friend, but he was found guiltless after an “investigation” that I am sure was not a real investigation. A 1992 Seattle Times exposé really opened the door when they found eight women willing to discuss this. As per always with these guys, it wasn’t just one woman. Of course Adams denied the whole thing and of course he knew he was lying. Finally, he dropped out of his reelection race in 1992. This was just fine. Patty Murray replaced him and has been a solid senator for the last three decades. Moreover, it was critical that a woman replace this scumbag to show that a new era of politics had come to both Washingtons.
What makes me extra sad about both Adams and Packwood is that they were both outstanding on women’s issues from a political perspective. Adams was a major proponent of women’s health. He also sponsored a bill to massively increase AIDS funding. But we know that lots of predators are able to disconnect their personal desires from their politics and policy.
None of this really hurt Adams’ wealth. He went back into lobbying. It’s not like corporations care about stuff like this. So he just stayed in Washington and lived there the rest of his life, or more accurately, in his home on the Chesapeake. Later in life, he contracted Parkinson’s and that eventually killed him in 2004. He was 77 years old.
Brock Adams is buried in Broad Creek Cemetery, Stevensville, Maryland.
If you would like this series to visit other senators elected in 1986, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Of course a lot of these people are still alive. John McCain is in Annapolis, Maryland and Arlen Specter is in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.