We chatted with land use lawyer John Hempelmann, with Cairncross & Hempelmann in Seattle, for our Washington Super Lawyers & Rising Stars magazine this year. But we didn’t have room for all the fascinating stories he related. This one is about his friendship with mentor U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.
Hempelmenn: At one point in my life, I thought I was going to be a professor [of government]. One day in August of ’66, Scoop took me over to have lunch with one of the Supreme Court justices, I think it was [Byron] White, and the two of them were telling me how much more flexibility I would have to do things as a lawyer than as a professor. I remember Scoop telling me, “If you’re a lawyer, you can teach and you can also be a lawyer. If you’re a professor, you can teach but you can’t be a lawyer.” I had been admitted to Georgetown law school; Scoop said. “Nope, if you’re going to have a future in government, you’re going to be going to school out where you live.” I said, “Well, Senator, it’s August-something and I haven’t even applied to the University of Washington law school,” and he said, “I’ll see what I can do.” He came over to my office later that day and said, “You’re in. They’ve got one more student than they thought they had.” I had three great years there, and I’d go back in the summers and work for Scoop.
Scoop insisted that I come back and go to law school here at the University of Washington because he thought I should follow him into politics. When his presidential campaign collapsed in April of 1972, he pushed me into a race for the U.S. Congress in Seattle and Bellevue. That had been a Republican seat for over 40 years. I was a 28-year-old Democrat. I won the election by 2,000 votes on election night, notwithstanding the fact that George McGovern was at the head of the ticket, and he got beat very badly. Then I lost in the absentee ballots the week before Christmas, the last race in America to be decided in 1972. You know, that was the first and only time I ever ran for office. What I have found is that I can be very effective working public policy issues that interest me-like Congressional leadership, like international human-rights issues, like all of the urban-growth and smart-growth issues that I work on, both as a vocation and as an avocation. Sometimes you can be more effective than if you’re elected. People, sadly, look at you differently.