According to a statement from the family of former Minnesota United States Senator and U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, Mr. Mondale has passed at the age of 93.
Patrick Condon/Minneapolis Star Tribune
Known as Fritz to family, friends and voters alike, Mondale died in Minneapolis, according to a statement from his family.
After serving four years as vice president under President Jimmy Carter, Mondale was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984. He lost to the incumbent, President Ronald Reagan, in a historic landslide.
“A night like that is hard on you,” Mondale wrote in his 2010 memoir, “The Good Fight.”
Even in defeat, Mondale made history by choosing as his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major-party ticket. It followed a series of political landmarks in a public career that spanned seven decades.
A protégé of Hubert H. Humphrey, another Minnesota politician who rose to the vice presidency and lost a presidential election, Mondale served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota for a dozen years. He played a lead role in the passage of social programs, civil rights laws and environmental protections that defined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”
One bit of work that I know earned Walter Mondale international recognition was his work on migration and refugee issues.
The Indochinese refugee problem had not engaged the public imagination, and yet it presented a disaster of tragic proportions. Thousands of refugees had been forced to flee from Vietnam after America’s withdrawal in 1975. Many lived in overcrowded camps in substandard conditions. Some were being murdered by their oppressors. Others were dying in shark-infested waters as their unseaworthy vessels could find no safe harbor to accept them.
In spring, 1979, America was doing little to respond to this global tragedy. Policymakers were focused on other challenges, and bureaucratic considerations counseled against American intervention.
That changed once Mondale became involved. Mondale persuaded Carter that America’s human-rights policy would ring hollow if we did not act to address the problem. With Carter’s support, Mondale persuaded the State Department to denounce Vietnam for its inhumane policies, and he persuaded Carter to send the Sixth Fleet to rescue the boat people from the perils of the seas. Mondale also persuaded Carter to seek additional funds to establish refugee processing centers in Southeast Asia and to assist in resettling refugees, and to agree to admit 14,000 refugees to the United States per month.
Mondale headed the U.S. delegation to a U.N. Conference on Indochinese Refugees in Geneva on July 20-21, 1979. He spent the first day persuading other nations to increase the numbers of refugees they would accept, to expand temporary camps, and to stop forcing the refugees to sea. But the highlight of the conference came on July 21, 1979, when Mondale delivered one of the truly eloquent speeches in American history.
And even before his efforts in assisting refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia, Senator Mondale replaced Robert F. Kennedy on the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare and, in 1969, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, organized and chaired a historic set of meetings on issues involving migrant labor.
Powerlessness became the topic of several months of hearings over which Senator Mondale presided as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor. After meeting with César Chávez and visiting migrant labor camps, Senator Mondale said in an interview, “I have tried to find out for myself how migrants live, and I want to help them—really help them, not urge band-aids for the deep wounds they have.”
He organized the hearings in seven parts, each part focusing on a specific aspect of the life of migrant and seasonal farm workers. Instead of only hearing from experts and outsiders who had visited migrant labor camps, he insisted that the workers themselves have a voice and testify in the hearings. Many of them testified about the unsanitary conditions in which they were forced to live and the powerlessness they experienced in trying to affect any positive change. They described the sporadic education their children received and they talked about how they often ended up being in debt to the crew leaders after weeks of work due to being underpaid and overcharged for transportation. Rudolfo Juarez, a migrant worker from Florida stated, “Gentlemen, bad working conditions and low wages for generations have maintained a slave labor system which ensures that the migrant farm worker’s children will have to live the same way he did and will continue to be slaves to agriculture and business.”After hearing reports from doctors who had investigated the health and living conditions of migrant workers, Mondale returned to the Senate floor to say, “I wish that all of my colleagues could have been in the hearing room as these doctors testified, for it is impossible to recount to you the hushed silence as they enumerated their findings. It is impossible to capture today their rage at having to recount their own experiences. There were few men and women that could sit through the testimony with dry eyes, insensitive to the realities of how we are daily destroying human beings.”
Due to the political climate after the election of President Nixon, Mondale did not attempt to introduce new legislation to help migrant workers, but rather tried to work to strengthen existing laws. His attempts to extend unemployment compensation and Social Security coverage to migrants and to obtain increased funding for migrant health, education and legal service programs were defeated in Congress. He did succeed, however, in extending occupational hazards to farm workers.