The toppling of House Speaker Tom Foley. The Iraq War. The Clinton impeachment.
It’s all there, in the 187 boxes of documents aides gathered from the Washington,D.C., office of former U.S. Representative George Nethercutt ( School of Law ‘71). And now it’s all at Gonzaga University’s Foley Center Library, which Nethercutt has chosen as the repository for his papers.
“I’m an alum of the law school, and so is my dad, and so is my wife,” says Nethercutt, when asked why he donated the papers to Gonzaga. “I had a great working relationship with the president of the university and the trustees during my congressional service. And I felt it was important to have my papers be accessible in as central a location as possible.”
Additionally, Nethercutt says, his experience at Gonzaga University School of Law enabled him to do a number of extraordinary things in a career that has included private practice, working for a federal judge, serving as chief of staff to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, and, of course, defeating a 30-year incumbent to capture Washington state’s 5thCongressional District seat for five terms.
“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done in the same fashion had I not had that strong legal education at Gonzaga University ,” he says.
“We’re quite pleased that Congressman Nethercutt chose Gonzaga as the repository for his papers,” notes June Stewart, the director of the law school’s Chastek Library. “For a library to receive a special collection like this is a real honor.”
Foley Center Library Dean Eileen Bell-Garrison says she was “delighted, but surprised” to receive the papers, noting that
Washington State University , where Nethercutt received his bachelor’s degree, has an established repository for historical papers. She says that a recently retired librarian from the University ofWashington who is an expert on retaining political papers will consult with Foley staff members for one week in September to help survey the contents of the boxes and set up a system for archiving them.
“How do you organize something like this? Chronologically? By issue? We’ve never done it,” she says.
Bell-Garrison adds that the papers will be of great value to Gonzaga students. “What [Nethercutt] has to offer is a bird’s-eye view of all the things that happened in our country during the time he was in office,” she says. “This is a collection and a perspective like no other, and you’re not going to get it any other way.”
Nethercutt says he hopes the papers will add a unique dimension to history. He points out that David McCullough’s recent biography of John Adams drew heavily from the second president’s papers.
“Adams was one of those guys in the history of the country who didn’t throw much away,” observes Nethercutt. “He kept letters and correspondences and documents that bring history alive for today’s generation. I don’t mean to imply that these papers are equal to the founders’ papers—but those people who, in 50 years, want to look back at what happened during the time I was in office can at least look and see what I was exposed to, and I hope that will be valuable.”
Of all his policy achievements, Nethercutt says the loosening of the trade embargo on Cuba — a measure he championed over the protests of some in his party, and which, he says “broadened the reach of American democracy” — is among those of which he is proudest.
“When you have 40 years of brinksmanship between our two countries,” he says, “to open a trade agreement that was achieved with a lot of hard work and anger and conflict in the House and Senate, I think that has significance.” Papers related to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, the bill Nethercutt finally steered through the House, are among those he donated to Gonzaga.
Bell-Garrison predicts it will take six to eight months to properly archive Nethercutt’s papers. Two graduate students from Western Washington University’s archives management program will begin that work next January. Once the papers have been fully processed, they will be cataloged online and made available to anyone as part of the library’s non-circulating rare materials.
Additionally, the library will create a permanent exhibit of photos and other memorabilia from Nethercutt’s collection. That exhibit will go on display later this summer in a new Nethercutt Reading Room on the library’s third floor; Nethercutt’s desk from his congressional office will be displayed there as well.
Bell-Garrison says she and Nethercutt have discussed the possibility of the former congressman meeting with students for conversations based on the contents of the papers.
“Regardless of the politics, there’s some real insight there into how the government really works,” she says, “and you don’t get that from textbooks.”