Longtime Washington lawmaker Sid Snyder had a sense of humor, dignity and respect that permeated the halls of the state capitol for nearly a half century. A grocer from Long Beach in southwest Washington, Sid set the tone for our Legislature.
After Sid retired, Hoquiam Rep. Lynn Kessler kept that protocol alive. Now, after 18 years in the state House, she is hanging it up as well. That is good for her and not so good for the rest of us.
Snyder and Kessler are Democrats in a Democrat-leaning state, but Republican legislators like Jeannette Hayner of Walla Walla and the late George Sellar from East Wenatchee maintained that same demeanor of civility and respect while doing the people’s business.
They lived by the mantra that people can disagree without being disagreeable. They stuck to the issues. They could have heated debates and arguments, yet they found ways to respect differing views and get along with their colleagues.
Kessler represents the blue-collar 24th District in southwest Washington. She came to Olympia just as the federal Endangered Species Act hit its full stride. The spotted owl was hard on Kessler’s district. It put thousands of acres of timberland off limits to harvest and fishing restrictions clobbered the charter boats and commercial fishers. As the forest products and fishing industries declined, her district suffered chronically high unemployment.
Today, Grays Harbor is a shell of the industrial complex it once was. Family-wage jobs have disappeared – many permanently. Kessler, who was a single mom raising four small children during part of her life, understood the problems faced by the people in her district, where as many as one out of seven people has no job.
In Olympia, she rose through the ranks in the state House of Representatives and for the last 11 years she has been the Democratic majority leader – a position that, regardless of party affiliation, is draining and difficult. Around the capitol, many say it is like herding cats.
Kessler is a good listener. She understands that people were given two ears and one set of vocal cords for a reason. Good leaders listen in order to understand and solve problems rather than just waiting for a chance to volley back to get the upper hand in an argument. In fact, that skill is a key reason she was successful in helping to hold her caucus together. Some would say she has been the lynchpin.
She also took responsibility. If a problem occurred, Kessler would step up and say, “We hadn’t thought about that,” or “We didn’t think it would work that way.” If she could, she would correct the problem.
Kessler will be missed. Hopefully, she will continue her work on the state’s Sunshine Committee which examines the state’s open government policies. And perhaps there is a way for her to continue to bridge the divide between urban and rural Washington.
Most of all, we need to continue the civil and respectful way she approached governing, working with the opposition and listening to people. We don’t need, nor do we deserve, the bitterness, political gamesmanship and disrespect so prevalent today, particularly in Washington, D.C. The venom and vitriol in our nation’s capitol is poisoning politics and eroding people’s confidence in our way of government.
We don’t need more politicians who run over anyone and everyone to get what they want. We need more Lynn Kesslers in public service.
Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.