Even Sen. Rosa Franklin's failures were sweet
JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer
Every legislative session, Sen. Rosa Franklin proposes a graduated income tax in Washington. Every year, her effort fails.
It’s a political hot potato that many of her fellow Democrats would probably prefer just go away.
But Franklin is tenacious. She doesn’t give up on a cause easily. The retired nurse recalls being an “agitator” in her youth. And even at 83, when colleagues more commonly describe her as compassionate, classy, gentle and attentive, she retains that spirit.
“She never slowed down. She was always on fire, always quick,” said her aide, Annette Swillie. “And people would think, ‘Oh, we can pull the wool over her eyes.’ That was never the case.”
Franklin won’t run for re-election this fall, ending a 20-year career in the Legislature.
Her announcement this week brought dozens of e-mails pouring into her office declaring how much legislators, staff, lobbyists and constituents would miss her. But she says she’s not really going away – just home to Tacoma, where she will stay active and try to persuade others to engage in the political process.
The first black woman elected to the state Senate, Franklin rose to its leadership. In the largely ceremonial post of president pro tempore, she presides over the Senate when the lieutenant governor is away. Her gavel is the final word on a bill’s fate.
That gavel came down pretty fast when she wielded it – sometimes before she even called for the dissenting votes, recalled Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. “We completely disagree on almost everything,” the Walla Walla Republican said, “but she was just a jewel to work with.”
Franklin grew up in South Carolina. Her husband James’ Army service took the couple around the United States and Europe, including a stint at Fort Lewis. They would later return to the area to make it their permanent home.
In between a career as a nurse and raising three children, she found time to be a Democratic Party activist, serve on the county planning board and work on campaigns.
Elected to the House in 1990, Franklin was appointed to her Senate seat in 1993 after the death of A.L. “Slim” Rasmussen and then won re-election four times.
The income tax proposals she has offered about eight years running brought Franklin annual attention.
Franklin said legislators were afraid they wouldn’t get re-elected if they backed the idea, but she maintains Washington needs such tax reform – an income tax, along with reductions to the business and occupations tax that she says is hurting small companies and a sales tax that she said makes revenue collections unpredictable.
“She wasn’t willing to just throw up her hands and walk away from it,” lobbyist Charlie Brown said. That same tenacity “also permeated all the other issues that she really got directly involved with.”
That included helping secure $10 million last year to build the Pierce County Skills Center, where high school students will get vocational training near Frederickson.
It required work over multiple years to pass a 2002 law she sponsored requiring training and reporting on racial profiling, and one in 2008 allowing local governments to ask voters to approve public financing of political campaigns.
Other legislation she pushed dealt with low-income housing, disparities in health care treatment, discrimination based on genetic traits and immunity for people who report drug overdoses.
This year, with tax increases on the agenda, it was once again the income tax making headlines. When an income tax on high earners came up for a hearing, some credited or blamed Franklin for a proposal that will likely show up in GOP campaign commercials, even though it didn’t move forward.
“We do know that she demanded inside of her caucus that they bring up the income tax vote even when it was politically damaging to her party,” Sen. Pam Roach said. But, the Auburn Republican said, “She’s very reflective of the majority in her district. … You’re there to represent the people that have elected you.”
Franklin says she didn’t push for the hearing, because the income tax that surfaced there was far less broad than the one she wanted. But she certainly had leverage in the Democratic caucus to have her requests heard, as one of the few Democrats who voted against early versions of the state budget. She later supported it.
The 29th District that Franklin represents is solidly Democratic, so her departure is unlikely to affect the partisan balance in the Senate.
The district is not the vibrant place it was when she came to the Legislature, Franklin said. Community groups are weaker and less active. Her goal now: to help them learn how to influence their government. Young people need a civics lesson, she said. She’ll even encourage them to run for office.
“Everybody should do it once,” she said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826