Carl Maxey smiled as he showed off his gold “Jackson” lapel pin at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
The smile was equal parts pride, humor and irony.
Pride, because Maxey was Washington state’s at-large delegate for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose campaign he had helped guide to an impressive showing.
Humor, because Maxey and a few other stalwart Democrats knew the inside joke: The Jackson named on the pin wasn’t Jesse. It was the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
Irony, because Maxey ran against Scoop Jackson in 1970, mounting a campaign he knew he couldn’t win to talk about ending a war and addressing the needs of the poor.
Just as he knew he would lose that 1970 campaign, Maxey knew Jesse Jackson would lose his bid for the presidential nomination. But the attorney was in his element, echoing his candidate’s call to “keep hope alive” and talking about campaigns to come.
For Maxey, a force in Spokane’s Democratic Party for much of the last half-century, there were always political battles down the road. Allies may become adversaries, and vice versa, but Maxey was always a voice for the poor and the powerless.
“Carl believed in all people getting a fair shake,” said Kathy Reid, who worked with Maxey to stun party leaders and deliver a third of Spokane County’s Democrats for Jesse Jackson in 1988.
Liberal Democrats recruited Maxey in the late 1940s as they tried to wrest power from the party’s conservative wing, recalled former Spokane City Councilman Robert Dellwo. Americans for Democratic Action were organizing door-to-door and “we needed someone like him to represent the minorities of the district,” Dellwo said.
Maxey became a voice quoted in the newspapers, a face seen in brochures, talking about workers’ rights and civil rights.
By the mid ‘60s, he had added another cause: ending the Vietnam War.
“To Maxey, civil rights and the war were interlocked,” said Bill First of Spokane, a longtime Democratic activist. “Because of college deferments for middle-class whites, a disproportionate number of minorities were being drafted into the service.”
The showdown over the war came with Scoop Jackson, one of the nation’s most stalwart hawks, and the state’s most powerful Democrat. In 1970, Jackson was so secure even Republicans were giving him money. The liberal Democrats had nowhere to turn.
Maxey gladly entered a fight he knew he would lose, recalled Tom Westbrook, who handled the campaign’s publicity.
“I don’t remember any lingering hard feelings,” recalled former House Speaker Tom Foley, a staunch backer of his mentor Scoop Jackson. “It was the kind of thing that Carl felt, in his own judgment, he had to do.”
Maxey backed George McGovern in 1972, and ran as independent Eugene McCarthy’s vice president on Washington state’s ballot in 1976. He then led Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in 1988.
McGovern. McCarthy. Jackson. Maxey. Not an electoral victory in the bunch.
“But these aren’t losers,” argued Dellwo. “They’re actually winners in doing what they did - for a reason.
“Carl became the soul of the Democratic Party on civil rights, Indian rights and the rights of the poor.” , DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS 1988: Convention delegate for the Rev. Jesse Jackson. 1976: Ran as vice president for independent Eugene McCarthy. 1970: Sought U.S. Senate seat held by Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
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