Ambassador to China: Who Is Max Baucus?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Max Baucus was sworn in as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China on February 21, 2014, after being nominated by President Barack Obama on January 7, 2014. Baucus replaced former Washington Governor Gary Locke in the position.


Baucus was born Max Sieben Enke on December 11, 1941, in Helena, Montana. His mother Jean came from a well-to-do ranching family in Helena and was attending Stanford, while his biological father, Stephen Enke, taught economics at that university. Enke later was controversial for some of his theories on population control (such as paying Indian men to be sterilized). Max lived for two years in California before his parents divorced and his mother brought him and a younger sister back to Helena. Baucus had little to do with Enke from that point.


In 1946, Max’s mother married John J. Baucus, who later adopted Max and his sister. Baucus attended Helena High School, playing football there, and graduating in 1959. He went to Carlton College for one year, and then transferred to Stanford, from where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1964. While a student, Baucus took time to hitchhike his way around the world. He remained in Palo Alto for law school, earning his J.D. in 1967.


Baucus’ first job out of law school was as a staff attorney for the federal Civil Aeronautics Board, which at that time controlled fares and routes of commercial airlines. He later took a similar position with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


In 1971, Baucus returned to Montana. He took a position with the 1972 state constitutional convention, which was rewriting that state’s governing document. Baucus eventually was made executive director of the convention. What was eventually adopted was called by some one of the most progressive constitutions in the nation.


By 1973, Baucus was working for a law firm in Missoula and was a member of the state legislature. He made the leap to Congress the next year, representing the western half of the state (Montana then had two representatives in the House). As part of his first campaign, he walked across the large district to gain name recognition. Baucus served two terms in the House before running for the Senate in 1978. He won easily, as he did most of his subsequent races through the final one in 2008.


As a senator, Baucus was a moderate, often working with Republicans on their programs to the consternation of his fellow Democrats. One example of this was on tax policy. Baucus voted for the George W. Bush tax cuts, opposed repeal of the cuts and has championed elimination of the estate tax. Another was on gun safety issues; he voted against the Manchin-Toomey background checks proposal.


As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus was a key player in President Obama’s fight to enact health-care legislation. One of Baucus’ first moves was to declare that single-payer healthcare, that is, a system like Medicare where the federal government manages payments to doctors, was not a possibility. Some tied this stance to the large contributions Baucus received over the years from the healthcare industry.


Baucus originally supported the war in Iraq. However, a nephew, Marine Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus, was killed in Iraq in 2006. The following January, Baucus spoke in opposition to the war, saying “If I knew then what I know now I never would have voted for the war.”


On April 23, 2013, Baucus announced that he would not run for re-election when his sixth term expired in 2014. In December 2013, Obama announced his intention to nominate Baucus for the post in Beijing. Baucus’ nomination was approved 96-0 by the Senate, with the nominee himself voting “present.”


Baucus has a son, Zeno, with his first wife Ann Geracimos, a journalist. Zeno is now an assistant U.S. Attorney in Montana. Baucus married his second wife, Wanda, in 1984. They were divorced in 2009. In 2011, Baucus married Melodee Hanes, who had worked in his state office. Prior to their marriage, Baucus nominated Hanes to be U.S. Attorney in Montana, but Hanes withdrew from consideration for the post.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Ranch Roots To D.C. Career: Democrat Baucus Running For 6th Term In U.S. Senate (by Jennifer McKee, Missoulian)

Official Biography


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