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George Mitchell

(b. 1933)


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(b. Waterville, Maine, 20 Aug. 1933)

US; US Senator 1980–95 George Mitchell was born to an Irish father and a Lebanese mother and grew up in relative poverty. Educated at Bowdoin and Georgetown Law School, he worked for the Department of Justice before resigning in 1962 to become an assistant to Senator Edmund Muskie, who greatly influenced Mitchell's career. Mitchell left Muskie's staff in 1965 for private law practice but in 1968 he became deputy director of Muskie's vice-presidential campaign. When Muskie ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972 Mitchell served as deputy director. Mitchell served in a number of Democratic Party posts: he was chair of the Maine Democratic National Committee 1966–8 and was a member of the party Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Section where he opposed delegate quotas. Although he lost a bid to become chair of the Democratic National Committee in 1972 he was appointed a member in 1974, a post he resigned when President Jimmy Carter appointed Mitchell US attorney for Maine in 1977. (He was appointed a judge on the US District Court in 1979.)

Mitchell had made an unsuccessful gubernatorial race in 1974 and might have stayed a judge but for Carter's nomination of Muskie to be Secretary of State in 1980, thus vacating a Maine Senate seat. Through Muskie, Mitchell was appointed and then surprisingly won re-election in his own right in 1982. In 1988 he won re-election easily.

In the Senate Mitchell gained respect for his mastery of legal detail and for his organizational capacity. His major legislative interests were environmental issues (where he proved an able critic of the Reagan policies) and especially air pollution. In 1984 he was elected chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and took a lot of the credit for the Democratic recapture of the Senate in 1986. In 1987 Mitchell's impressive performance on the Iran-Contra hearings, enhanced his reputation and in 1989 he was elected majority leader against competition from Daniel Inouye and Bennett Johnson.

Mitchell's low-key style of leadership proved well suited to a period in which Congress and the presidency were frequently in conflict but legislative compromises had to be reached. In 1994 Mitchell retired from the Senate. In retirement he played a key role in attempts to bring about a settlement to the Northern Ireland conflict as special presidential adviser. Initially involved to look at possible US help to support the local economy, he was soon involved in discussions over decommissioning paramilitary weapons and then chaired the negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement of 1998. He continued to further the peace process until 2000. He then served as chairman of the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact Finding Committee, investigating the Middle East crisis (2000–01). After this his skills were used as chairman of Walt Disney and in undertaking a review of drug-taking in professional baseball. He returned to a more political role when he was appointed special envoy to the Middle East by President Obama in 2009, in the hope that his great experience in resolving complex issues can bring progress to the peace process.

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Subjects: Politics.


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