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Clifford Peter Hansen (October 16, 1912 – October 20, 2009) was a Republican politician from the Americanmarker state of Wyomingmarker. He served as both governor (1963-1967) and U.S. senator (1967-1978). Earlier, he was the president of the board of trustees of his beloved alma mater, the University of Wyomingmarker at Laramiemarker in Albany Countymarker, the state's only four-year institution of higher learning. He was also a county commissioner in Jacksonmarker, the seat of Teton Countymarker in far northwestern Wyoming. Before his death on October 20, 2009, he was the oldest living former U.S. Senator as well as the third oldest living former U.S. Governor. The oldest living former senator is now Harry F. Byrd, Jr., an Independent from Virginiamarker.

Early years and education

Hansen was born in Zenith (now Teton County but then Lincoln Countymarker), a settlement so small that it is no longer listed on Wyoming road maps, to Peter Arthur Hansen and Sylvia Irene (née Wood). The senior Hansens were ranchers originally from Idahomarker: Peter, of Danish extraction, came from Soda Springsmarker, and Sylvia, of English descent, was born in Blackfootmarker. Peter Hansen, who had some college training, was a "practical" engineer who did surveying and ditch work on ranch lands.

Clifford Hansen grew up in Jackson, a resort community west of Grand Teton National Parkmarker. There he attended public schools. As a child, he overcame a serious speech impediment which baffled his teachers, some of whom first thought that he was "uneducable". His problem was not inability to learn but a severe stutter which was corrected by his attendance at a special school. Having overcome the speech impediment, Hansen forever stressed the value of an education, once having advised a grandson, "It's the one thing no one can take away from you."

In the Menor's Cabin, a small museum near the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park and adjacent to the Chapel of the Transfigurationmarker, is a picture of young Cliff Hansen and his mother, Sylvia, which was taken in the early 1920s. The photograph is posted under the cattle exhibit and is meant to demonstrate the hardiness of early Wyoming pioneers.

Peter "Pete" Simpson, a UW political science professor and the 1986 Republican gubernatorial nominee, described the importance of the Tetons to the Hansen family: "That country is special. It provides solace and power all at the same time. . . . There's a specific nurturing quality in it, and it has nurtured a specific breed of people -- strong, independent, clear-thinking, forthright, trustworthy, authentic Western-types. No-nonsense, good-humored, exuberant, full of warmth, larger than life. Close enough to creation to be at ease with all mankind, and thereby able to serve them better."

Hansen obtained his bachelor's degree in animal science from UW in 1934. While at the university he was in the Epsilon Delta Chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity. He was a UW trustee from 1946 to 1966 and was the trustee board president from 1955 until 1962, when he resigned to run for governor. From 1943-1951, he was a Teton county commissioner. He opposed enlarging park lands in Wyoming at the expense of ranchers, who would lose revenue from hunting and guiding if private holdings came under government ownership. As owner of the Spring Gulch Ranch, Hansen was active in several agricultural and ranching groups, having served from 1953-1955 as president of the influential interest group, the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. He was also a member of the American National Cattlemen's Association. Ironically, Hansen never tasted beef until he was a student at UW. "Beef is what we produced. We ate deer and elk," he later recalled.

The governorship

Hansen won the governorship in the 1962 mid-term elections by 10,000 votes. He unseated the Democrat Jack R. Gage, who had served fewer than two years. First, Hansen won the GOP primary over two opponents with 57 percent of the ballots. Gage defeated William Jack to secure the Democratic nomination, 55.5-44.5 percent. In the general election, Hansen polled 64,970 votes (54.5 percent) to Gage's 54,298 (45.5 percent).

Hansen's governorship was characterized by efforts to expand highways and reservoirs throughout Wyoming. Several newspapers in the American West referred to him as Wyoming's "cowboy governor". Hansen's obituary contends that he "brought both the down-to-earth pragmatism of a lifelong cattle rancher and the affability of a small-town politician to Cheyenne and then to Washington, and he was on friendly and familiar terms throughout his career, not only with those on both sides of the political aisle, but also with elevator attendants, cafeteria workers, and staff members throughout the Capitol who called him friend."

As his gubernatorial term wound down, Hansen decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat which was being vacated by the retiring Republican Milward L. Simpson of Codymarker in Park Countymarker who was also a former Wyoming governor. Hansen said that he believed he could assist the state more from Washington, D.C.marker, than in the state capital in Cheyennemarker (Laramie Countymarker). He won that election with just under 52 percent of the vote. In a fairly Republican year nationally, he defeated popular Representative at-large Teno Roncalio, a Democrat of Italian extraction. Hansen received 63,548 votes (51.8 percent) to Roncalio's 59,141 (48.2 percent).

Hansen's Senate years, 1967-1978

In 1972, Hansen was reelected to the Senate over Democrat Mike Vinich: 101,314 votes (71.3 percent) to 40,753 (28.7 percent). Twenty-six years later, Vinich's son, John P. Vinich, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor against Republican Governor James "Jim" Geringer. Hansen's 1972 raw vote was the first to surpass 100,000 in Wyoming history. Since that time, as of 2002, at least five other winning Senate candidates in the state have received even more than 100,000 votes. Hansen's Senate reelection marked the last time that his name appeared on a ballot. On the same day, Richard M. Nixon defeated Democratic U.S. Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakotamarker to attain his second term in the White Housemarker.

Senator Hansen was known for social and fiscal conservatism. He was one of the eight senators who in 1972 voted against sending the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the states for their consideration. He opposed the Nixon administration's deployment of the anti-ballistic missile, a position which put him at odds with then Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird.Pete Williams, a Wyoming native and a former Hansen Senate staffer recalled Hansen's "warm Western smile and utter lack of pretense . . . a favorite of his Senate colleagues and congressional employees alike. If the cafeteria workers found out you worked for Cliff Hansen, you got special treatment."

In 1976, Hansen supported the renomination and reelection of President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., who won Wyoming's three electoral votes. His backing of Ford was consistent with the stand of his Republican Senate colleagues that year; only two, Paul Laxalt of Nevadamarker and Jesse Helms of North Carolinamarker, endorsed Ford's rival for the nomination, Ronald W. Reagan of Californiamarker. Hansen retired from the Senate in 1978, when he declined to run for a third term. He moved back to Jackson and chaired several financial and civic associations. He supported the Republican presidential nominees in all elections thereafter.

In the Senate, Hansen sat beside his friend, Barry M. Goldwater, the Arizonamarker Republican who lost the 1964 presidential election to Lyndon B. Johnson of Texasmarker. He had been among those Republican senators who urged Goldwater to meet with President Nixon to inform him that there were far insufficient votes in the Senate to avoid conviction of a pending impeachment. In a 2006 interview, Hansen fondly recalled one of Goldwater's jokes: Goldwater goes into a California country club that excludes Jews. The man in charge tells him that he is sorry but Jews cannot play in the club. Goldwater says, "I'm only half Jewish. Can I still play nine holes?"

Hansen served on the Senate Finance Committee under chairman Russell B. Long (1918-2003) of Louisianamarker, son of the legendary Huey Pierce Long, Jr. Hansen, thereafter as ranking member of the committee, said that Long was a "fair" chairman and one of "my dearest friends." He said that Long listened to the problems of Wyoming farmers and ranchers though he represented a state more than 1,200 miles to the south. Hansen teamed with Long to make sure that the mineral oil fees on federal lands in Wyoming would go to the state government in Cheyenne, rather than to the U.S. treasury.

Hansen said one of his most important achievements in the Senate was the passage of amendments to the Surface Mining Act which prevent mining companies from confiscating the wealth from private lands by means of following an oil bed onto adjacent properties. Farmers and ranchers as a whole in Wyoming, he said, do not object to mining but want compensation if minerals are found on their lands. Hansen said that the amendments have proved important over time because of the large coal industry now rooted in his state.

Another Hansen accomplishments was the spearheading of national legislation that increased the share of mineral royalties collected on federal lands within the western states from 37.5 to 50 percent. This adjustment brought an additional $2.8 billion to Wyoming over the years, according to calculations requested by Governor Dave Freudenthal from the state Department of Revenue.

In the first decade of his Senate service, Hansen's Wyoming colleague was Democrat Gale W. McGee, a former UW history professor who was first elected in the national Democratic sweep of 1958. McGee often cancelled out Hansen's more conservative votes. In 1976, however, McGee was upset by the Republican nominee Malcolm Wallop, a New York Citymarker-born rancher and businessman from Sheridanmarker, who in the following two years as Hansen's colleague voted mostly in line with Hansen, who then became Wyoming's senior senator.

Hansen resigned his Senate seat on December 31, 1978, three days before the expiration of his term to give a slight seniority edge to his moderate Republican successor Alan Kooi Simpson of Cody, brother of Peter Simpson and son of conservative Milward Simpson, Hansen's U.S. Senate predecessor. Alan Simpson would later become the Senate Republican whip. At the Hansen funeral, Alan Simpson paid tribute, accordingly: "I owe him much. All of Wyoming and the nation owe him much. . . . He was a dear and special man who gave much and asked very little, and fought on always with integrity, courage, and an uncommon degree of common sense. God bless his soul."

The Hansen family

In 1934, Hansen married the former Martha Close (born June 5, 1914) of Sheridan. At the end of each workday, Hansen would call Martha from his Senate office to inform her that he was on his way to their Washington apartment. He totally avoided the Captiol Hill cocktail circuit.

The Hansens were the parents of a son, Peter Arthur Hansen (born 1936). Their only daughter, Mary Hansen Mead (1935-1996), was the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1990 against popular Democratic Governor Michael John Sullivan of Douglasmarker in Converse Countymarker. Sullivan defeated Mrs. Mead, 104,638 votes (65.4 percent) to her 55,471 ballots (34.6 percent). In the general election, Mrs. Mead polled only 4,311 more votes than she had in her closed primary. Hence, she was unable to reach beyond her base of support within the GOP.

Thereafter, Mrs. Mead, considered an expert horsewoman, was killed in an accident while working cattle on leased land in Grand Teton National Park on June 21, 1996. She was thrown by her horse, which then collapsed upon her, her father explained. Mary Mead was married to Peter Mead, who coincidentally partly bears the same name as her father and grandfather. (Peter Mead is not related to the American boxer Pete Mead (1924-2007), a native of Arkansasmarker.) She lived on the Mead Ranch, officially the 'Lower Bar BC', which prior to its sale for more than $100 million was one of the largest pastoral private pieces in Teton County. The Hansens and Meads were particularly known for conservation and stewardship activities on their properties. In December 2001, the ranch had surrendered its 2,000-acre lease in Grand Teton Park in 2001, which had become unproductive economically.

Bradford Scott "Brad" Mead (born July 24, 1957) is one of the two sons of Mary and Peter Mead. There is also a daughter, Muffy Mead-Ferro, an author in Salt Lake Citymarker, Utahmarker. Brad Mead and his wife, Katherine L. "Kate" Mead (also born 1957), are attorneys in Jackson. Kate Mead, a Vermontmarker native who came to Wyoming on a skiing scholarship, was the Republican nominee in 2006 for the District 16 seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives but was handily defeated by the incumbent Democrat Pete Jorgenson. Both Brad Mead and grandfather Cliff Hansen have recorded interviews to be used as a part of the new Jackson Hole Historical Society Museum, which will be unveiled within the next few years in downtown Jackson.

Another Hansen grandson, Matthew H. "Matt" Mead (born March 1, 1962), served as United States Attorney in Cheyenne from 2001-2007, an appointee of U.S. President George W. Bush. In 2007, he resigned as U.S. attorney to seek the seat of the late U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, but the Republican State Central Committee bypassed Mead on the third and final ballot. He came within fourteen votes of being one of the three nominees from which Governor Freudenthal, a Democrat, would under state law make the final selection to fill the Thomas vacancy until the 2008 general election. Mead has been mentioned as a potential candidate for governor in 2010, along with Colin M. Simpson, a grandson of Milward Simpson.

Upon the death of former Republican Senator Hiram L. Fong of Hawaiimarker in August 2004, Hansen had become the oldest living person to have served in the United States Senate.

Hansen's official gubernatorial portrait was prepared by Michele Rushworth, who sought to capture the former governor's soul.

Death and legacy

In 2006, Hansen said in an interview that he and his wife were in "pretty good health" considering their ages, though he had vision difficulties; so they had retained a driver. By mid-October 2009, Hansen fell severely ill because of complications from a broken pelvis. After a short time in the hospital, he returned home to be with Martha, his wife of more than seventy-five years, whom he had met at UW in Laramie. Theirs was the longest active marriage of a present or former U.S. senator. Hansen's prognosis was poor, and he died on October 20, four days after his 97th birthday. In addition to his wife and son, Hansen was also survived by a brother, Robert Hansen, and a sister, Ordeen Hansen, five grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

Hansen lay in state in a casket draped with the Wyoming flag at the state capitol in Cheyenne. State funeral services were held on October 24 at the Cheyenne Civic Center, with many Wyoming dignitaries in attendance. Pallbearers and honor guard were provided by the Wyoming Air National Guard, Wyoming Army National Guard, and the Wyoming Highway Patrol. At the funeral, Governor Freudenthal eulogized Hansen: "I think that without a doubt we can see Cliff Hansen was beloved and always will be. . . . And more than any stone monument, we will carry him with us throughout our lives because he is woven into who we are and through the fabric of this wonderful state."

A memorial service was held at St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson at 2 p.m. on October 27. Hansen's cremated remains were deposited at the church in a crypt, which contains the ashes of daughter Mary Mead. Upon her death, Mrs. Hansen's remains will be deposited there as well.

Hansen's obituary indicates that he entered the political arena because he "cared about Wyoming, and with an understanding that his job was to advance the welfare of the people he served in the state he so loved, and not to advance his own career. No one could have been more deeply attached to the land; he grew up more outdoors than in, and gave endless attention and energy to the stewardship . . . [of] all the land in Wyoming.

"And no one could have been more deeply attached to the people of Wyoming. Cliff genuinely liked other people. He was interested in their backgrounds, their work, their families, and their opinions. Those thousands of different people he met from all over Wyoming, Washington D.C., and beyond, knew when he looked them in the eye that there was nothing practiced nor obligatory about his interest in what they had to say."

Mrs. Hansen recalled her husband's faith in the American people: "Everybody is important, and his actions both inside and outside politics bore that out."

In 1995, Hansen was inducted, along with the Texas artist and illustrator Thomas C. Lea, III, into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma Citymarker, Oklahomamarker, as a "Great Westerner."

In 2005, a bronze calf sculptured by artist Jerry Palen was erected in Hansen's honor at the Wyoming state capital by the Stockgrowers Association. At the dedication, Ron Micheli, a former state representative, a rancher from Fort Bridgermarker, and a candidate for governor in the 2010 Republican primary, called Hansen, accordingly, "The footsteps he has left in the state surpass anything we can ever keep up with."

Pete Williams recalled his former boss as follows: "He was an honest man, of rock solid integrity, who loved his wife, his children, and his state. And when his service to his nation was over, he went back to Wyoming, where he died, not far from the log house where he was born."


  1. Former Wyo. governor, US Sen. Clifford Hansen dies, Associated Press, October 21, 2009.
  2. Menor's Cabin exhibit, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, Wyoming
  3. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Wyoming governorship, 1966
  4. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, U.S. Senator from Wyoming, 1966
  5. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, U.S. Senator from Wyoming, 1972

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