Lloyd Meeds was a respected and successful congressman who represented Washington state's 2nd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 1965 to 1979. Previously he had been known as a crusading prosecutor in Snohomish County, and had gained considerable attention for his cleanup of houses of prostitution in the county. Meeds was first elected to Congress in 1964, and his 14 years in Congress were productive ones. Known as a plain-speaking man with a keen insight, he championed major environmental legislation, including the North Cascades National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and also became active in Native American issues, most notably the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. He retired from Congress after his 7th term, and enjoyed a successful career as an attorney and lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the rest of his career, promoting stronger ethical standards and campaign reform, and continuing his advocacy for environmental and Native American issues.
Edwin Lloyd Meeds -- known as Lloyd -- was born in Dillon, Montana, on December 11, 1927. In 1944 he moved to Monroe (Snohomish County) and graduated from Monroe High School in 1946. He signed up for the United States Navy shortly before graduating from high school, and completed his service in November 1947. He next attended Everett Junior College, graduating in 1950. After that he ran a gas station in Monroe that he had a partial ownership in.
Apparently he did not find life at the gas station stimulating. In 1954 Meeds started law school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, and in 1958 graduated second in his class. He passed the bar the same year.
A Successful Prosecutor
He served briefly as deputy prosecuting attorney in Spokane County, and then in Snohomish County, from 1958 to 1960. In the autumn of 1959 he gained considerable public attention as deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County when he led a raid on a house of prostitution. Two sheriff's deputies were found in the house. This resulted in an inquiry by the state attorney general's office. Weeks later a grand jury indicted the county sheriff for willful neglect of duty for allowing three houses of prostitution to operate in the county, and he was later convicted on two of the counts. Meeds was subsequently appointed to the prosecutor's position and in 1962 he was elected Snohomish County Prosecutor.
By the early 1960s Meeds was becoming more active politically. He served as president of the Snohomish County Young Democrats from 1960 to 1962, and was a board member of the Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee from 1961 to 1963. In 1964 he ran for the United States House of Representatives for the 2nd Congressional District of Washington, which encompassed Whatcom, San Juan, Island, Skagit, and Snohomish counties, and part of northeastern King County. He ran against Alfred "Jack" Westland (1904-1982), a Republican who had occupied the seat since 1953. Peter Jackson, son of Washington state Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983), describes Meeds as a reluctant recruit in challenging the incumbent Westland. But Meeds won handily, along with three other Democratic newcomers to Congress from Washington state: Brock Adams (1927-2004), Thomas Foley (1929-2013), and Floyd Hicks (1915-1992).
North Cascades National Park
Meeds assumed office in January 1965. In his early years in Congress he helped to implement some of President Lyndon Johnson's (1908-1973) Great Society programs, such as the War on Poverty, and Head Start, another anti-poverty program dedicated to assisting children from low-income families. But he quickly carved his own niche. Interested in Indian affairs and environmental issues -- both hot-button topics in Washington state in the 1960s and 1970s -- Meeds played a large role (along with "Scoop" Jackson) in the formation of the North Cascades National Park in 1968.
The formation of the park was a contentious issue in Meeds's district. One example of how contentious it was can be found in a telegram Meeds received from some of his constituents, advising him that if he supported the park that he "might as well look for another job." It was signed "The Bellingham Chamber of Commerce" (Everett Herald, September 18, 2005).
But Meeds held his ground, and on October 2, 1968, President Johnson signed the bill creating the North Cascades National Park. The half-million acre park is located in the Cascade Mountain Range in Whatcom and Skagit counties. After the park was established, Meeds and Jackson wisely conducted what were essentially publicity tours with the area's community leaders. They were joined by both Park Service and Forest Service officials, who had been bitter rivals in the debate over the park's formation. These meetings, held late in 1968 and early in 1969, allowed Meeds and Jackson to show how the Park Service and Forest Service had buried the hatchet and were now cooperating to coordinate the park's management, and also gave elected officials a chance to mend relations with skeptical locals and to explain how the park would benefit all.
Champion of Alaska Native Rights
Meeds's next major work involved obtaining Congressional passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Since the United States had purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, claims of Alaska's Native Indian, Aleut, and Eskimo population to the lands on which they had lived for generations had remained unresolved.
When President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) signed the settlement into law in December 1971, Alaska Natives received title to more than 40 million acres, divided among approximately 220 villages (and 13 regional corporations established to manage the lands and cash payments received from the settlement). They also received a total of $962 million in a cash settlement derived in payments from the U.S. Treasury (to be spread out over a period of 11 years) and from mineral revenues from specified Alaska lands.
Another of Meeds's signature accomplishments was pushing the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Act through Congress. Again, he faced considerable opposition, especially from the lumber industry. One petition opposing the legislation made such an impression on him that he framed it and hung it in his office. It was signed by both of his parents. The act was signed into law by President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) in July 1976, and protected more than 300,000 acres in the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington state, south of the North Cascades National Park. In September 2007 a plaque honoring Meeds was erected at the popular Snow Lake Trailhead (near Snoqualmie Pass) in recognition of his efforts to create the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Meeds served on the House Labor and Education Committee, and through this committee sponsored educational reform legislation that included the Vocational Educational Amendment of 1968, the National School Lunch Act, and the Child Nutrition Act of 1970. Meeds was also a supporter of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972.
In February 1973, in the aftermath of the Vietnam debacle, he introduced what became known as the War Powers Act. Passed by Congress over President Nixon's veto the following November, the act requires (unless American forces are already under attack) that the President obtain Congressional approval to send troops into action abroad.
Also in early 1973, Meeds was named chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. This was a puzzle to some of his peers -- it was not a job that many congresspersons sought out. "He oughta have his head examined," quipped one colleague. A political writer for The Seattle Times added in a column "That chairmanship over the years has had as much political attractiveness as an attack of asthma" (The Seattle Times, June 10, 1973). In earlier years Congress had not been particularly concerned with Indian affairs, but Meeds sought to change that, explaining that when he traveled to Alaska in 1969 to attend hearings on the Alaskan native land claims, "I was appalled. I've seen bad situations and poverty before, but I never saw anything like what I saw there ... . I wanted to do something about it" (The Seattle Times, June 10, 1973).
Meeds's empathy with Native Americans nearly cost him his Congressional seat in the 1976 election. In February 1974, Federal Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) issued an historic ruling reaffirming the rights of Washington's Indian tribes to fish in their usual and accustomed places, as specified in the treaties. What became known as the Boldt Decision allocated 50 percent of the annual catch to treaty tribes, which enraged other fishers and non-Indians who had no interest in the Indians' historic and hitherto ignored treaty rights. Sympathetic to the tribes, Meeds angered many in his district by pointing out that the Native Americans had the law on their side and that people should accept it and move on. His support of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness legislation also contributed to the loss of support from some voters.
Meeds had typically been re-elected by wide margins (his 1968 election, coming on the heels of the creation of the North Cascades National Park, was a bit closer), but the 1976 campaign was an ugly one. His Republican challenger, John Nance Garner, painted Meeds as an East Coast elitist, out of touch with his district, and more interested in his business interests in the East. Describing the campaign, the Everett Herald wrote, "It was a campaign of Garner setting political brushfires and Meeds having to be on defense from the start." Meeds characterized Garner's campaign as "one with dirty tricks similar to the Watergate period," and complained, "The people of the district were deprived of really taking about major issues to any length and depth" (Everett Herald, November 3, 1976).
When the votes were tallied on election night, there was no winner. Out of more than 200,000 votes cast, Meeds held a lead of 132 votes -- but there were 18,000 absentee ballots left to count, and it would take nearly two weeks to count them all. Tension grew. There was some concern that the final result might be contested. Three Congressional investigators arrived in Everett to monitor the count and to stave off any possible problems. More votes were counted. A week after the election, Garner took the lead, which over the following days grew to more than 600 votes. But finally, on November 15 -- 13 days after the election -- the final block of absentee ballots (from Snohomish County, where Meeds's support was strongest) was counted, and Meeds was declared the winner. An automatic recount confirmed the results: Meeds won by 542 votes, or just over one-quarter of 1 percent. Smiled a relieved Meeds, "It came just in time" (Everett Herald, November 16, 1976).
Given the election squeaker, some speculated that Meeds might modify his positions, but he dispelled those ideas the day after his victory was announced, explaining "It would be a mistake to think suddenly I will become someone I'm not" (Everett Herald, November 16, 1976). In his 7th and final term in Congress, he served as a member of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, which had jurisdiction over all public lands in Alaska. But he decided it was time to move on, and late in 1977 announced that he would not seek re-election in the 1978 mid-term elections. He was unhappy with the growing cost of running a campaign, and he told a reporter that he was frustrated with public cynicism toward politicians after the Watergate scandal that forced President Nixon out of office.
(Regarding Watergate, Meeds had spotted the handwriting on the wall early. In October 1973, he co-sponsored a resolution of impeachment of the President, asking the House to conduct a full inquiry into Nixon's actions that had led to the scandal. This eventually led to the House Judiciary Committee passing three articles of impeachment the following summer, which was followed by Nixon's resignation in August 1974.)
He left fond memories among those who had known and worked with him. Peter Jackson, in an amusing aside, described a man who "never suffered fools and kept handy a one-word stamp to express displeasure with offending letters and memos [let's just say the word was an unprintable synonym for 'Nonsense']" Former aide Drew Pettus explained, "He understood the ‘human predicament…' He knew people so well he could almost see around corners." Al Swift (1935-2018), who succeeded Meeds when he left Congress in January 1979, remarked, "When you know who you are and you don't lose your way, you can leave footprints long beyond the time anyone will remember your name" (Everett Herald, September 18, 2005).
Lobbying And Lawyering
Meeds remained in Washington, D.C. after leaving Congress in 1979. He joined the law firm of Preston Gates Ellis as a partner in the firm's D.C. office. He became a lobbyist, and represented clients as diverse as the Seattle Art Museum and Microsoft Corporation. In the 1990s he helped preserve the competitiveness of the American software industry by relaxing export controls of American encryption products. He was active in organizations that promoted clearer and stronger ethical standards for lobbyists, and served as chairman of the Ethics Committee of the American League of Lobbyists from 1987 to 1993. He wrote the first code of ethics for lobbyists in the group.
During the 1990s he participated in the debate over campaign-finance reform. He disapproved of the inherent conflicts in political fundraising, arguing that the then-widespread use of unregulated contributions known as soft money posed a bigger threat of corruption than the former practice of allowing large individual donations directly to candidates, and summed it up this way: "We just fool ourselves if we don't think there's some expectation of influencing government in some way" (Seattle P-I, August 19, 2005). Congress agreed, and passed legislation outlawing soft money contributions in 2002. Washingtonian, a monthly magazine published in Washington D.C. that focuses on the city's people and businesses, named Meeds one of the most effective lobbyists in the city.
Meeds also practiced law during his years at Preston Gates Ellis. He took on pro-bono projects, which included securing funding to help establish a natural resources center at Gonzaga University for conducting environmental research in partnership with industries key to the Inland Northwest economy. In 2003 he represented the National Coalition for Foster Care to help secure funding for a program to help children leaving foster care better manage the transition to independent living.
He continued his advocacy for Native Americans on issues raised by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, and represented the State of Alaska on a number of issues, first working for the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) signed into law in 1980. Considered one of the most significant land conservation measures in this country's history, ANILCA protected over 100 million acres of federal land in Alaska, expanding the national park system in the state by over 43 million acres, and creating 10 new national parks. Meeds continued to represent the State of Alaska on matters arising from ANILCA until his death. His dedication to both the conservation of Alaska lands and the interests of its indigenous peoples led Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (b. 1933) to designate February 28, 2005, as Lloyd Meeds Day in the state.
Life and Death
Meeds battled lung cancer during the final years of his life, and died from it at his home in Church Creek, Maryland, on August 17, 2005. His first marriage, to Barbara Meeds, ended in divorce shortly after he was first elected to Congress. In 1967 he married Mary Yang, and she survived him. He had three children: Michael and Michelle, from his first marriage, and Deborah, from his second.
When Meeds's death was announced and the eulogies began, Tom Foley may have said it best: "He concentrated on things that had a long-lasting effect. Education of children, enhancing the lives of Native Americans, our natural heritage ... . But he had an effect on people's lives. The lives of a lot of people are better for his work" (Seattle P-I, August 19, 2005).