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Harold Hughes

Harold Hughes
United States Senator
from Iowa
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1975
Preceded by Bourke B. Hickenlooper
Succeeded by John C. Culver
36th Governor of Iowa
In office
January 17, 1963 – January 1, 1969
Lieutenant W. L. Mooty
Robert D. Fulton
Preceded by Norman A. Erbe
Succeeded by Robert D. Fulton
Personal details
Born Harold Everett Hughes
(1922-02-10)February 10, 1922
Ida County, Iowa
Died October 23, 1996(1996-10-23) (aged 74)
Glendale, Arizona
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Iowa
Profession businessman, veteran
Religion United Methodist
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War II

Harold Everett Hughes (February 10, 1922 – October 23, 1996) was the 36th Governor of Iowa from 1963 until 1969; he had been a Republican earlier in his life. He also served as a Democratic United States Senator from 1969 until 1975.


  • Background 1
  • Early years 2
  • 1962 gubernatorial campaign 3
  • Governor of Iowa 4
  • U.S. Senator from Iowa 5
    • 1968 campaign 5.1
    • Leader on alcoholism and narcotics issues 5.2
    • Touted as a presidential "dark horse" 5.3
    • Decision not to seek re-election 5.4
  • Post-senate years and retirement 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
    • References 8.1


Hughes was born in rural Ida County, Iowa. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, fighting in the North African campaign, and was court-martialed for assaulting an officer. The trial resulted in him being sent to fight in Sicily in 1943. He became ill and another soldier took his place on a landing craft at Anzio. The craft exploded, killing his replacement, Pvt. Walter Thomsen, and many others.

Hughes' interest in politics was stirred by involvement in the trucking industry. He became a manager of a local trucking business, and then began organizing independent truckers. He started the Iowa Better Trucking Bureau and was eventually elected to the State Commerce Commission, which he served from 1958–1962, including a term as its chairman.

Early years

In 1952, his desperation drove him to the brink of suicide. He describes in his book how he climbed into a bathtub (to make the mess easier to clean up) with a shotgun and was ready to pull the trigger, when he experienced what may be called a moment of spiritual enlightenment which was to remain a memorable turning point throughout the remainder of this life, and which led him to deep spiritual commitments. He began to study the Bible diligently, develop his prayer life, and even considered a career in the ministry. He also embraced the AA program of recovery and started an AA group in Ida Grove, Iowa, in 1955.

1962 gubernatorial campaign

Hughes grew up a Republican in a heavily Republican area, but was persuaded to switch parties. His service on the State Commerce Commission also brought him in contact with the Interstate Commerce Commission and national politics. He then ran for Governor of Iowa on the Democratic ticket and defeated incumbent Republican Norman Erbe in 1962.

A major issue in the campaign was legalization of "liquor-by-the-drink." Iowa allowed only beer to be consumed over the bar. Liquor and wine could be purchased only in state liquor stores and "private clubs". Hughes became a proponent of "liquor-by-the-drink." A short time after he was elected, the state adopted a new system of alcohol control.

Governor of Iowa

Hughes served as Governor from 1963 to 1969. During this time, he continued to reach out, as a Christian and as an alcoholic in recovery, to people still suffering. He established a treatment program in the state and was an effective spokesman for a more enlightened view of the role of alcohol in society. The new treatment program was viewed as an alternative to the state mental hospitals. Hughes wrote that the goal was to reach alcoholics "before they reach rock bottom."

His political career also continued to gain strength. He made a speech seconding the nomination of Lyndon Johnson at the 1964 Democratic convention (a decision he came to regret later) and gained national recognition as a liberal governor as well as a promising national figure in the Democratic Party. Trade missions abroad, and a tour of Vietnam with other governors, provided him with foreign policy experience.

In his 1964 bid for re-election as governor, the issue of a relapse in 1954 was raised by his opponent, Evan Hultman. In a debate, Hultman charged that Hughes’s failure to acknowledge the relapse publicly showed that Hughes lacked integrity. Hughes responded: "I am an alcoholic and will be until the day I die... But with God’s help I’ll never touch a drop of alcohol again. Now, can we talk about the issues of this campaign?" According to the Des Moines Register, "The reaction of the crowd was immediate and nearly unanimous." Later, the Register editorialized: "In our opinion, any man or woman who wins that battle and successfully puts the pieces of his or her life back together again deserves commendation, not censure." Hughes won by a landslide.

In 1966, Iowa, like other states, suffered Democratic losses, but Hughes survived. It was at that time that his friendship with Robert Kennedy started, and it was Kennedy who persuaded him to run for a Senate seat. The next years were difficult ones, in the wake of the assassinations of Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, racial unrest in Iowa, and his growing disenchantment with American policy in Vietnam and the leadership of the Johnson administration.

U.S. Senator from Iowa

1968 campaign

At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hughes was giving a nominating speech for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy when violent demonstrations erupted on the streets of Chicago. Hughes, a heavy favorite, defeated Republican David Stanley, a Muscatine, Iowa state senator, by only 4200 votes for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Bourke Hickenlooper of Cedar Rapids.

Leader on alcoholism and narcotics issues

As a U.S. Senator, Hughes persuaded the Chairman of the Senate’s Labor and Public Welfare Committee to establish a Special Sub-committee on Alcoholism and Narcotics, chaired by Hughes himself. This subcommittee, which gave unprecedented attention to the subject, held public hearings on July 23–25, 1969. A number of people in recovery testified, including Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, National Council on Alcoholism founder Marty Mann, and AA co-founder Bill W. In his autobiography, The Man from Ida Grove: A Senator's Personal Story, Hughes writes that he asked a dozen other well-known people in recovery to present public testimony, but all declined. The hearings were considered a threat to anonymity and sobriety.

Hughes also talked about the need for treatment of drug addiction. He stated that "treatment is virtually nonexistent because addiction is not recognized as an illness." The hearings, and subsequent events related to alcoholism and addiction, were not given much press attention because the press was more interested in the Vietnam War, poverty, and other critical issues. Legislation creating the National Institute on Drug Abuse was not passed until 1974.

The goal of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, considered a "major milestone" in the nation’s efforts to deal with alcohol abuse and alcoholism, was "to help millions of alcoholics recover and save thousands of lives on highways, reduce crime, decrease the welfare rolls, and cut down the appalling economic waste from alcoholism."[1]

Touted as a presidential "dark horse"

In early 1970, Hughes began to get press recognition as a "dark horse candidate" for the 1972 presidential election. Columnist David Broder described him as "a very dark horse, but the only Democrat around who excites the kind of personal enthusiasm the Kennedys used to generate." In 1971, Hughes denounced Nixon's secret wiretapping, done through the FBI.[2]

He seemed to observers to be an almost reluctant candidate, though, and a bit too much of a "mystic" for the Washington press corps. Columnist Mary McGrory wrote of him: "He hates small talk, He likes a heavy rap. He talks about religion, and about drugs and alcohol. He hated being trotted out to cajole financiers wanting to look him over before opening the checkbook. His staff had to prod him to call party chairmen. Hughes preferred a session with the kids at the local treatment centers." The Washington establishment was not too surprised when he dropped out of the race.

Decision not to seek re-election

They were surprised, though, when he called a press conference on September 5, 1973, and announced that, after a long period of soul-searching, he would retire from the Senate when his term was completed. He said that, for profoundly personal religious reasons" he would seek "a new kind of challenge and spiritual opportunity," and would "continue efforts in alcoholism and drug treatment fields, working for social causes and world peace." He said: "Rightly or wrongly, I believe that I can move more people through a spiritual approach more effectively than I have been able to achieve through the political approach."[3]

In 1974, his last full year in the Senate, he succeeded in passing legislation that extended and expanded the original 1970 act. He was invited to the signing of the bill by President Nixon, but "couldn’t bring myself to attend, since his administration had fought it every inch of the way." Democratic Congressman John Culver defeated Stanley to succeed Hughes in 1974.

Post-senate years and retirement

After he left the Senate, Hughes devoted himself to lay religious work for two foundations based in Washington and also founded a religious retreat in Maryland. He had been active in prayer groups while serving in the Senate, and the last few chapters of his autobiography gave this aspect of his life special prominence. Hughes partnered with former Nixon Aide Charles Colson in his religious work, and even portrayed himself in the 1978 motion picture, Born Again, starring Dean Jones as Colson. He also remained a strong advocate for services to chemically dependent people.

After his retirement, Hughes served as a consultant to the Senate and the Senate Judiciary Committee for a year. He then started the Harold Hughes foundation and opened the Harold Hughes Center to combat alcoholism. After some time in Iowa, Hughes considered running for governor in 1982 but did not. Hughes moved to a retirement community in Glendale, Arizona, where he died. His remains were returned to Iowa and buried in the Ida Grove cemetery in Ida Grove, Iowa.

See also


  1. ^ (The Man from Ida Grove, p. 290)
  2. ^  
  3. ^ AP, 10-25-96)


  • Hughes, Harold E. The Man From Ida Grove: A Senator’s Personal Story . Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1979; Larew, James C. “A Party Reborn: Harold Hughes and the Iowa Democrats.” Palimpsest 59 (September/October 1978): 148–61.
  • Anonymous. “Conversation with Senator Harold Hughes.” Addiction 92 (February 1997): 137–149. Forward by Senator Edward Kennedy.
  • Hughes, Harold E., with Dick Schneider. The Man From Ida Grove: A Senator’s Personal Story . Lincoln, VA: Chosen Books, 1979.
  • Larew, James C. “A Party Reborn: Harold Hughes and the Iowa Democrats.” Palimpsest 59 (September/October 1978): 148–61.
  • Smith, Thomas S. “The Vietnam Era in Iowa Politics.” Palimpsest 63 (September/October 1982): 138–41.
  • Eric Pace (October 25, 1996). "Harold Hughes, Iowa Trucker Turned Politician, Dies at 74". The New York Times. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Norman A. Erbe
Governor of Iowa
1963 – 1969
Succeeded by
Robert D. Fulton
United States Senate
Preceded by
Bourke B. Hickenlooper
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Iowa
1969 – 1975
Served alongside: Jack R. Miller, Richard C. Clark
Succeeded by
John C. Culver
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