- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ANNAPOLIS — Former U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, a liberal Republican who championed civil rights and protection of the Chesapeake Bay during his 26 years in Washington, has died. He was 87.

Mr. Mathias died Monday at his home from complications of Parkinson’s disease, his sons, Charles and Robert, said.

Mr. Mathias’ career in Congress spanned the turbulent years of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, and he often found himself at odds with his party on those and other issues.

In retirement, Mr. Mathias broke with the Republican Party again in 2008 when he endorsed Sen. Barack Obama a week before the presidential election. He said the Democratic candidate was “better suited to recharge America’s economic health, restore its prestige abroad and inspire anew all people who cherish freedom and equality.”

Leaders from both Democratic and Republican parties in Maryland described him as an influence on their careers.

“He was a pioneer, a gentlemen and a fierce advocate for the citizens of Maryland during his time in public life,” said former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mr. Mathias was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960 from a Maryland district and quickly gained a reputation for bucking the Republican Party. Election to the Senate followed eight years later.

He was a strong supporter of civil rights legislation and supported a federal ban on inexpensive handguns.

When conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, Mr. Mathias would not endorse him by name, saying only that he supported all Republican candidates.

Mr. Mathias generally supported President Nixon on economic issues but opposed two of the president’s conservative Supreme Court nominees and voted against the administration’s attempts to weaken the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In his home state, Mr. Mathias was considered to be the father of the massive state and federal program to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1973, he undertook a 450-mile tour of Maryland’s portion of the Bay, meeting with scientists, business leaders, conservationists, farmers and watermen. That tour laid the groundwork for a partnership among three states and the federal government to preserve the environment of the Bay.

Mr. Mathias served three terms in the Senate before deciding not to seek re-election in 1986.

“The season has arrived to shift to a new field of activity,” he said in announcing his decision. While Mr. Mathias was often at odds with the Republican right, he said “that was not significant” in the decision. He also predicted “the tide will come in again” for Republican moderates and liberals.

In a 1993 interview, Mr. Mathias said he was particularly proud of his work on civil rights.

“When I went to Congress, this was a segregated country. Now there is, at least in law, no racial barriers,” he said.

Besides his sons, Mr. Mathias is survived by his wife, Ann Bradford Mathias, and two grandchildren.

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