Haggin, Morey (1906-1995) and Bart (b. 1936)

  • By Kate Kershner
  • Posted 11/02/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9944

Morey Haggin was a Spokane-area environmentalist and political activist, one of the first champions of conserving and protecting Spokane's natural habitat. His son, Bart Haggin, went on to take up his father's mantle by working to ensure environmental protection in the Inland Northwest. In 2002, Bart Haggin made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. He and his wife, Lindell, live on the Little Spokane River on land deeded to the Spokane parks system, and continue to be active in environmental causes.

Morey's Early Years

Morey Haggin was born in Oklahoma in 1906. His father was a druggist, and later moved the family to Omaha for work. After the federal government passed the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914, which regulated pharmacists, and their drug supplies, Haggin's father moved the family to Canada for a year, in fear of being raided. The family relocated back to Omaha, Nebraska, where Morey finished high school and learned his trade of welder.  

Morey joined the Burlington Railroad soon after, and moved to Cheney with Great Northern Railroad, along with his parents. It was at this time, in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, that Bart Haggin, Morey's son, saw that his father's desire to tend to his community take root. Morey would go to the Turnbull Slough (now the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge), and "shoot ducks and geese, and then bring them to the poor people" in the city, people suffering from loss of money and work (Kate Kershner interview). 

In 1935, Morey married Margaret Stolz (1910-1998), who was born and raised in Spokane. Both Morey and Margaret were avid outdoors people, and decided soon after they got married to buy 17 acres of land on the Little Spokane River. Although  the land was later, ironically, devalued because of the Haggin's lobbying for the State Shorelines Act, Morey seemed unaffected by this loss of money.  

"It's no big deal to me," Morey said of the strict regulations that were put in place on the land. "I don't want to develop it anyway. Maybe it'll be a park someday" (Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983).

The Haggins were keen to explore their property and enjoy its natural setting. Morey was interested in fly-fishing and bird hunting, whereas Margaret preferred the more peaceful practice of bird watching. She joined the Bird Club of Spokane in 1948. Morey soon became swayed to Margaret's hobbies, and when the Spokane Audubon Society affiliated itself with the birding club in 1970, Morey was elected president.  

Getting Active for the Environment

While Morey earned his living as a welder working for the railroad system, he stayed  active in the environmental community in Spokane. During the 1960s, he became involved with the Sierra Club of Spokane and this led to other activism. "Once you get started in the damn thing you get involved with other organizations, and pretty soon you're active in them too," Bart Haggin said of Morey's list of community activities (Spokesman-Review, May 17, 1992).

In 1983 the Spokesman-Review detailed a typical week for Morey and Margaret Haggin: "[A] Monday meeting with a group protesting high electrical rates, a Tuesday meeting with a Democratic organizing committee, a Wednesday meeting with the Audubon Society and a Thursday meeting with the Friends of the Earth" (Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983). Morey added that Friday night was reserved "so we can ski like hell all weekend" (Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983).

One of the Sierra Club's earliest interventions became Morey and Margaret Haggin's first foray into activism. The Forest Service was planning to log the Salmo River Drainage, spending a large amount of money to build a road that would result in a small percentage of timber sales back. "One of the first real fights we had -- 15 years ago -- was over the Salmo-Priest," Morey said in 1983. "And we're still fighting it" (Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983). The group did stop the project, and the area eventually was designated the Salmo-Priest Wilderness in 1984. "He didn't look imposing," Bart Haggin recalls of his father's tough stance for environmental causes. "But he was tough as nails, even late in life" (Kate Kershner interview).

Canwell and His Campaign I AM HERE

Morey was an active Communist Party member during the 1930s, but he soon abandoned the party to become a strong supporter of liberal Democratic policy in Spokane. By the 1940s, a strong anti-Communist sentiment took hold as Joseph McCarthy began the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington D.C. Washington state had its own Legislative Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington State.  It was generally referred to as the Canwell Committee after its chairman, congressman Albert Canwell (1907-2002), who admired McCarthy's anti-communist policies. 

The Canwell Committee called Washington State residents to testify who had been accused of Communist activity or knowledge, including 40 University of Washington faculty who were subpoenaed. The repercussions of the hearings resulted in three professors being fired and never teaching again, and in general paranoia about accusations of communism from the committee. Terrified of Canwell's accusations, a group of Democrats in Spokane, including Morey Haggin, decided to put up a candidate that had very little to lose in a potentially ugly campaign.

Their solution? A mental patient, of course. According to Morey's stories to his son, the group decided to name Donald B. Miller -- a man institutionalized at Medical Lake for mental illness -- as the Democratic contender against Canwell. (Their reasoning, however accurate, was that a mental patient's life wouldn't be ruined by accusations of Communism.) When it came to campaigning, however, they ran into a problem. How to show off a candidate that was certifiably insane?

They decided to use a man from the west side to "stand in" for the candidate, and stump around the state. Canwell's ideas and activities proved so deplorable that the citizens of Washington cheerfully voted in a mental patient ringer, and his stand-in (Kate Kershner interview).

Teaching and Inspiring

Morey and Margaret opened up their home (and the natural habitat around it) to educate both the influential and the young. Celebrated civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), United States Speaker of the House Thomas Foley (1929-2013), Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980), and countless Forest Service supervisors were guests of the Haggins.

But some of the most respected visitors were the young people of Spokane, who took part in informal outdoors camps every summer, led by Margaret. Margaret -- a lifelong teacher in Spokane School District 81 -- created a three day camp for kids and their parents to learn about their region. "My philosophy is that teachers don't teach, they inspire," Margaret said of the camp. "When I'm teaching the kids I hide my prejudices. We just try to get the kids to see what's out there, and how things interrelate" (Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983). And just like almost all the Haggins work, the camp is entirely volunteer.  


Morey Haggin stayed terrifically active later in life, continuing to ski in the same forests that he visited in the 1920s. Upon his death on November 20, 1995, many political and environmental leaders praised him and his work.

“Almost every environmental issue you could think of, Morey was in the center of it. And he fought passionately,” said Thomas Foley, adding that Morey wasn't all sweet when it came to causes he believed in. "You knew it when he was mad at you" (Spokesman-Review, November 21, 1995).

Bart Haggin: Teacher

The Haggins' son, Bart, was born in 1936. An avid outdoorsman from the beginning, Bart inherited both his parents' love of the environment, and the activism to back up his feelings. Bart graduated from University of Washington with a degree in drama, and came back to settle in Spokane, where he taught English and drama at Rogers High School for 30 years.  

Along with teaching, Bart started to become actively involved in his teacher's union. In 1963, Bart was president of the Spokane Federation of Teachers, and advocated for equitable pay between classroom teachers and district administrators. "There is a general feeling among teachers that administrators are too often selected from among these groups, but there is no justification for such selective procedures," Haggin wrote (Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1963).  

For the Environment

Haggin also became involved with some of his parents' favorite environmental causes, joining the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and other area environmental groups. He became a prominent member of the Spokane community by doing regular radio commentaries on politics and environmental issues for the local public radio station, KPBX.  

In 2002, Bart decided that his ambitions were not just in the private sector. Bart had been involved with the Democratic Party for nearly his entire life. For 30 years, he had been a precinct committee officer, and worked at times as a legislative district leader. He was also a member of the Growth Management Steering Committee for Spokane County, as well as the Natural Heritage Advisory Council for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.  

Bart's work made an impact on the community by chairing the Lands Council. According to its website, the Lands Council "has protected thousands of acres of public land, and in the process worked to preserve the forests, water, and wildlife we all depend on for life" (Lands Council). Bart also chaired the Spokane branch of the Washington Conservation Voters, a group that strives to elect officials to state and local offices that are strong environmental advocates.  

When campaigning against five-term congressman Republican George Nethercutt (b. 1944), Haggin pointed out the disparity between those who were elected to office and  those who were being represented. "I've always thought of myself as a populist," Haggin said on announcing his campaign. "People don't vote because they see the rich and powerful have bought the election" (Spokesman-Review, June 19, 2002).  

"I really believe we have lost democracy," Haggin has said of his motivation for running, a sentiment he often repeated (Camden 102402, Haggin website). He advocated public funding for elections to distance candidates from special interests, as well as the ability to mark a ballot "none of the above" in an election. “Democracy is in crisis in the United States…These aren’t elections, they’re resource contests where you scare people off so you don’t have to run a campaign," Haggin said (USPIRG).  

Running for Congress

Haggin openly criticized Nethercutt for what he saw as the congressman's foot-dragging when it came to designating Idaho's Silver Valley a Superfund site. They also sparred over a very incendiary issue at the time: whether the United States was justified in its invasion of Iraq.  

"I can assure you it's real, this threat from Saddam Hussein," Nethercutt said during a debate between the candidates in 2002. "If we don't face it now, we'll face it in two or five years" (Spokesman-Review, November 1, 2002). 

"I'm opposed to the United States invading other countries without some evidence they're going to invade us or cause us harm," Haggin rebutted. But he also said he had "no doubt" a war was on the horizon (Spokesman-Review, November 1, 2002). Haggin lost to Nethercutt, with 33 percent of the vote to Nethercutt's 62 percent. Haggin ended up raising $36,000 to Nethercutt's $925,000.

Haggin still seems unfazed by his loss: "I knew I wasn't going to win," he has said. He was more interested in informing people about the mounting Iraq situation, as well as demonstrating the corruption that money brought to the political process. He recalls asking Tom Keefe (the 2000 candidate against Nethercutt)  for advice about running his campaign. Keefe replied to just remember that "you aren't going to educate anybody," said Haggin. "Well, that's all I did!" (Kershner interview)  

Bart Haggin's wife, Lindell, is a treasurer of the Audubon Club that his parents chartered, and they both remain active in Democratic and environmental causes. Bart spent more than 10 years on the board of FutureWise (a statewide group to promote environmentally responsible growth), and the Lands Council. He still holds a position on the Eastern Washington Voters Board.

Bart and Lindell live on the 10 acres of land on the Little Spokane that his parents bought in 1935. The land is still deeded to the Spokane Parks System. 

Sources: Kate Kershner interview with Bart Haggin, October 1, 2011, Seattle, audio in possession of Kate Kershner, Seattle; Karen Dorn Steele, "He Lived For the Land," The Spokesman-Review, November 21, 1995, (http://www.spokesman.com/stories/1995/nov/21/he-lived-for-the-land-environmentalist-morey/); Jim Camden, "Haggin, Nethercutt Wrangle over Issues," The Spokesman-Review, November 1, 2002, p. B-2; Jim Camden, "Congress, 5th District," The Spokesman-Review, October 24, 2002, p. 2; Jim Camden, "Lands Council Head to Run for Congress," The Spokesman-Review, June 19, 2002, p. B-4; Rich Landers, "Watchdogs," The Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1983, p. C-12; "Bart Haggin for Congress," hagginforcongress.com, accessed October 1, 2011 (http://webarchive.loc.gov/lcwa0006/20021002070213/http:/www.hagginforcongress.com/); "House of Representatives Election Results," CNN.Com, accessed October 3, 2002, (http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2002/pages/house/full.html); "Personalities Are a Big Issue in Talk of Miller's Senate Seat," The Spokane Chronicle, February 2, 1951, p. 2; Rich Landers, "Sierra," The Spokesman-Review, May 17, 1992, p. C-10.

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