Howard Wolpe died at the too young age of 71. Howard Wolpe represented a moderate and conservative Michigan disrict for 14 years in the US House of Representatives as a liberal Democrat.
Howard was an Africa expert who made continuing contributions as a legislator by fighting for economic and political sanctions against South Africa. To do so, he had to overcome the rigid Cold War perspective of the Reagan Administration and persuade enough colleagues to override a Reagan veto. He continued as a legislative initiator by leading the efforts to provide famine relief and development assitance to Africa.
Howard could pay attention to these larger issues because he understood and applied the Tip O’Neill philosophy that “all politics is local.” Maybe not all politics, but a substantial part. So he repeatedly was reelected. Wolpe was so effective politically that the Republican legislature gerrymandered him out of his seat when Michigan lost representation after the 1990 census.
After his Congressional service, Wolpe served as President Clinton’s representative to the Africa Great Lakes Region. There he worked overtime, in an uphill effort, to draw US attention, and that of other countries, to conflicts and harm to the people in Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Wolpe challenged himself to become well informed on areas outside of his specialty such as nuclear non-proliferation, adverse environmental consequences that cause famine and the harm from small arms sales.
Howard Wolpe was so substantively respected, and he had a great ability work with people who were not liberals, that Lee Hamilton, the respected head of the Wilson International Center for Scholars, asked him to head its Africa program. As with all other matters of his public life, Howard Wolpe performed excellently.
Howard faced tragedy as his wife drowned in a surprise undertow. He continued and moved forward. His warm heart was overcome by illness. Howard Wolpe’s contributions as a public servant will stand as a lasting part of his contributions to the public weal and are part of a proud legacy of public service.
Senior Congressional Fellow,
Council for a Livable World