Pete McCloskey, former Congressman and environmental pioneer, dies at 96

Pete McCloskey. Photo credit: Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP

Former Palo Alto Congressman Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman who was a founder of Earth Day and who challenged President Richard Nixon over Vietnam, died today at his home in Winters, Calif. He was 96.

“McCloskey was a rarity in American politics — his actions were guided by his sense of justice, not by political ideology,” Joe Cotchett, his law partner since 2004, said in a statement. “He hated inequity and did not hesitate to take on members of his own political party.”

McCloskey joined the Marine Corps as an officer and led a rifle platoon during some of the most intense fighting of the Korean War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism, the nation’s second-highest honor, a Silver Star for bravery in combat and two Purple Hearts.

He earned a law degree from Stanford and founded an environmental law firm in Palo Alto before making the move to public office. In 1967, he defeated fellow Republican Shirley Temple Black and Democrat Roy Archibald in a special election for the San Mateo County congressional seat.

McCloskey was re-elected seven times after that. He wanted immediate U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War that cost 58,000 American lives. But his enduring legacy is the Endangered Species Act, which protects species designated as endangered or threatened and conserves the ecosystems on which they depend. McCloskey co-wrote the legislation in 1973, after a campaign by young people empowered by Earth Day activities successfully unseated seven of 12 Congress members known as “The Dirty Dozen” for their anti-environment votes.

He battled party leaders while serving in Congress and went on to publicly disavow the GOP in his later years.

He went on to co-found the Palo Alto law firm that eventually became Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and was most recently a partner in Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy, based in Burlingame.

McCloskey is survived by his wife, Helen — his longtime press secretary whom he married in 1978 — and four children by his first wife: Nancy, Peter, John and Kathleen.

1 Comment

  1. Few representatives today in our political sphere come close to the integrity, the goodwill, and the character which Pete McCloskey exemplified within my community. He was an authentic human being on every level and a politician worthy of my vote. His political affiliation was of little consequence where the earth and mankind mattered most. His loss emphasizes today’s current lack of basic morality and compassion that could exist in our politics if we set aside the petty hatreds and toxic squabbles that have produced intractable political trench warfare. All of which gets us nowhere. Those who don’t value and learn from his efforts at fighting gallantly against our enemies, both foreign and domestic, will be condemned to repeat that miserable history, or accept abject tyrany.

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