Hue Beattie, Mr. Democrat
by Kathryn Fentress
Kathryn Fentress and her husband moved to Bellingham 20 years ago for the water, trees, fresh air and mountains. She is a psychologist in private practice and believes that spirit is everything. Living in harmony with nature reflects a reverence for life. She delights in finding and meeting those people whose stories so inspire all of us.
Hue Beattie (pronounced Hugh) is called “Eagle Eye” by close friends because of his keen observation of political events and analyses. He is also referred to as “Mr. Democrat” in Whatcom County. He is a lifelong activist, a dedicated hard worker in promoting democracy and a longtime supporter of Native American sovereignty. He moved to Bellingham 42 years ago to attend Western Washington State College after serving eight years in the Navy. He owns a locksmith business he operates with his son, Thomas. He wrote planks for the 2004 Democratic National Platform and was a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Kathryn Fentress: When did you first get involved in politics?
Hue Beattie: When I received my draft notice in 1965, I decided to join the Navy and had submarine duty for 6 years. Being on a nuclear sub, I had a lot of time to think about things and realized that developing more nuclear power was not a good idea. When the Scorpion submarine went down in 1968, I lost friends. Nixon was president at the time and I was upset that he was getting worse so I campaigned to get people to vote for McGovern. This was my first time I stepped out to get involved politically. Later, while stationed in Guam, I decided to get out of the service and use the GI bill for my education.
I moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University, bought an old house in 1973 and started at Huxley College of Environmental Studies. I had originally taken classes at the Teacher’s College in New Jersey before being drafted. My courses from there did not transfer and I ended up taking about 245 credits but did not get a degree. While I was doing my student teaching, I hurt my back and had to drop out. With no healthcare, I finally got better after about a month of lying on the floor.
I apprenticed as a locksmith and four years later set up a locksmith business. In the mid-1970s I worked to set up a Public Interest Research Group at WWU and at the University of Washington. When Puget Power wanted to build a nuclear plant, I worked hard to stop that. I didn’t work with the Democrats at first but then I did to get rid of the tax on food in 1978. I got involved with the Democratic Party because the party rules are fair and the party usually makes changes rather than just talking. I have been a precinct committee officer, a county vice-chair, a state committeeman, and was on the credentials committee in 1992 and the platform committee in 2004. I was honored as the Washington State Democratic Man of the Year in 2004 because of the amendments I wrote that were adopted, including healthcare as a right for citizens.
What motivated you to be proactive?
I read a lot. In the Navy on the sub, I was very thoughtful about everything. I decided that if I survived, I wanted to make sure things improved, make a difference. I like Nature and try to “minimize entropy.” Trees store energy but animals and people tend to use up energy. There needs to be a balance. Everything uses energy so my purpose in life is to minimize entropy.
In 1977, I divorced and moved into a land trust house. I went into VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in 1978 and worked with the Opportunity Council to develop a community gardening program. I became a Master Gardener and helped set up three gardens, two of which are gone now but others have been created. During this time I discovered the Lummi people and the real poverty on the reservation. I extended my time a year to work with Lummis as part of the Opportunity Council and developed a plan for a nutrition program, set up community gardens and planted 175 nut and fruit trees. I continued another year to help set up a weatherization program at Lummi.
In the 1980s the crises in Central America were going on. I supported NCAT, a Nicaraguan technology development program. The Lummis sent me to Washington, D.C. to expose the Department of Energy’s bad management of weatherization program.
We had a lot of delegates for the state convention when Jesse Jackson was running for president in 1988. The local Democrats were impressed with the Rainbow Coalition, a term Jackson coined to indicate all races coming together for change.
In 2004, the state party chair asked me to be join the platform committee so I worked with a few others on the red eye plane to the meeting in Florida. Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior had written a book about healthcare being a right, so I put in the healthcare as a right piece that he spoke about the next day. He later thanked me for it. When Obama gave his speech, I wondered if he got it from the platform I helped write.
What people have inspired you?
I have learned from lots of people over the years. I had a 4th grade teacher who allowed me and a friend of mine to go into the library and read science books for our science time. I read every book in that library in the science section. I also had a civics teacher in high school who made a positive impression. I think of certain professors at Western Washington University like Jerry Kraft, a biology professor who has since died, and Jerry Flora, also a biology teacher at Western, and Bob Keller, a professor at Fairhaven College at WWU all of whom have been sources of inspiration for me.
What projects are you involved in now?
Business went down in 2008 and has been slow since. I also had a bad case of shingles a few years ago that settled into my back and damaged nerves to my leg. I am hampered now with a lot of pain and am getting too infirm to be able to move around much. My son is doing most of our work but I have tools in my car for car lockouts and can drive up close enough to work. I am on the precinct committee locally, on the Happy Valley Association Board, a vice president of Land Trust, and have a two year old at our home that I “grandfather” a bit. I usually have four to six folks at a time living with me in my community home.
What would you recommend to our readers?
Read more, especially the [Cascadia] Weekly and the [Whatcom]Watch, check out local sources, keep yourself educated at least locally. From that things can flow. It is important to be proactive rather than being reactionary.
How do you keep your spirits up?
I’m more pessimistic since the last election, but I continue to read a lot. I meet with friends regularly for coffee and discussion of current events. I’m trying to figure out what to do with the next few years. I am thinking of writing a book as I have a lot of little stories to tell. I have a stack of index cards with the names of people I have met along the way and would like to tell about my interactions with them to pass along to others. I am thinking of calling it Face to Face.
What would be your intention or motivation in the book of Faces/stories?
It would be something to pass on before I go. Not many people follow everything. I am one of those people who is a generalist; I see and make a lot of connections and then pass on the information to others who might then be motivated to take action.
Thank you Hue for the tremendous amount of work and number of projects you have sponsored and supported. I look forward to seeing your book of interesting people you have met along the way.