Clifford Hansen

Clifford Peter Hansen (October 16, 1912  October 20, 2009)[1] was an American politician from the state of Wyoming. A Republican, he served as the 26th Governor of Wyoming (January 7, 1963 – January 2, 1967) and subsequently as a United States Senator (January 3, 1967 – December 31, 1978). Earlier, he was the president of the board of trustees of his alma mater, the University of Wyoming at Laramie in Albany County, then the state's only four-year institution of higher learning. He was also a county commissioner in Jackson, the seat of Teton County 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.

Clifford Hansen
United States Senator
from Wyoming
In office
January 3, 1967  December 31, 1978
Preceded byMilward Simpson
Succeeded byAlan Simpson
26th Governor of Wyoming
In office
January 7, 1963  January 2, 1967
Preceded byJack R. Gage
Succeeded byStanley K. Hathaway
Personal details
Clifford Peter Hansen

(1912-10-16)October 16, 1912
Teton County, Wyoming, U.S.
DiedOctober 20, 2009(2009-10-20) (aged 97)
Jackson, Wyoming, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Martha Close (1934–2009)
Children2, including Mary
EducationUniversity of Wyoming (BS)

Early years and education

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

Clifford Hansen was reared in Jackson Hole, a high-mountain valley that includes what is now Grand Teton National Park. 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."[2]

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.[2]

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).[3]

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."[2]

As Governor, he increased appropriations for state programs to combat alcoholism and mental illness by more than 50 percent.[4]

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. 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).[5]

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).[6]

Senator Hansen was known for social and fiscal conservatism. He 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.[7]

In 1976, Hansen supported the renomination and reelection of President Gerald R. Ford Jr., who won Wyoming's three electoral votes. Hansen retired from the Senate in 1978, when he declined to run for a third term. He moved back to Jackson and served on the Senate Finance Committee under chairman Russell B. Long.

Another one of Hansen accomplishments was 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.[8]

Hansen resigned his Senate seat on December 31, 1978.[8] 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."[8]

The Hansen family

In 1934, Hansen married the former Martha Close (June 5, 1914 – September 29, 2011), who was reared in Sheridan. The two met at the University of Wyoming.[9]

The Hansens were the parents of a son, Peter Arthur Hansen and Mary Mead.

Another Hansen grandson, Matthew H. "Matt" Mead (born March 1, 1962), served as United States Attorney in Cheyenne from 2001 to 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 Wyoming 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. In 2010, Mead was elected governor of Wyoming, re-elected in 2014, and served as the 32nd Governor of Wyoming (2011-2019).

Upon the death of former Republican Senator Hiram L. Fong of Hawaii in August 2004, Hansen became 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.[10]

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.[2]

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. 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.[8]

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."[2]

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 City, Oklahoma, as a "Great Westerner."

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."[7]

In 1995, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[11]


  1. Former Wyo. governor, US Sen. Clifford Hansen dies, Associated Press, October 21, 2009.
  2. "Obituary of Clifford P. Hansen". Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. Retrieved October 24, 2009.
  3. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Wyoming governorship, 1966
  4. Martin, Douglas (21 October 2009). "Clifford Hansen, Former Wyoming Governor and U.S. Senator, Is Dead at 97". New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  5. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, U.S. Senator from Wyoming, 1966
  6. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, U.S. Senator from Wyoming, 1972
  7. "Remembering Cliff Hansen". Archived from the original on October 25, 2009. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  8. "Matt Joyce, "Hansen remembered as a man who gave much, but took little"". Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  9. "Martha Hansen, Gov. Mead's grandmother, dies". Wyoming Tribune Eagle, September 29, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  10. "Bill McCarthy, "Artists will attempt to capture souls of former governors: Two portrait artists will paint five former governors that will hang in the Capitol"". Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, November 25, 2007. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  11. "Hall of Great Westerners". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Milward Simpson
Republican nominee for Governor of Wyoming
Succeeded by
Stanley K. Hathaway
Preceded by
Milward Simpson
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Wyoming
(Class 1)

1966, 1972
Succeeded by
Alan Simpson
Political offices
Preceded by
Jack R. Gage
Governor of Wyoming
Succeeded by
Stanley K. Hathaway
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Milward Simpson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Wyoming
Served alongside: Gale W. McGee, Malcolm Wallop
Succeeded by
Alan Simpson
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Hiram Fong
Oldest Living United States Senator
Sitting or Former

Succeeded by
Harry F. Byrd Jr.
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