Ken Jacobsen was pretty earnest when he retired after a 28-year career in the state House and Senate, so I can only imagine how earnest he was as a Seattle freshman in 1983.
That session, Jacobsen was trying to get his first bill passed, had gotten it through the House and was pestering a fellow Democrat to hold a hearing on the bill in the Senate.
“Finally she told me, ‘If I see your face again, that bill is dead,’” Jacobsen recalled years later. So he steered clear of Sen. Lorraine Wojahn until he entered a Senate hearing room, looking for his own north Seattle senator.
Unfortunately, Wojahn was on the same committee. When she saw him her face darkened, and Jacobsen quickly retreated. Not quickly enough, though. His bill died without a hearing.
Such were the ways of the woman known as the Norse Goddess of Terror, who died over the weekend at age 92. It was a nickname assigned by former Sen. Ray Moore behind her back but proudly adopted by Wojahn as it helped spread the word that she was not to be trifled with. As a woman who began her service when there were few of her gender in the Legislature, she was determined that the men would take her seriously or else.
Like when a former member-turned-lobbyist was asking her to support a bill. When she repeatedly refused, he asked why.
“Because 10 years ago, you voted against my bill,” she said.
I have more than a few scars from run-ins with Wojahn, and she mentions me in her oral history only to illustrate why the paper hated her. I don’t know that anyone hated her. We were simply transitioning to a type of coverage that was a bit more assertive, a bit more accountability-based, than she’d been used to.
For the most part, like any good goddess, Wojahn used her powers for good instead of evil. She sponsored bills strengthening women’s rights, patients’ rights, support for the poor and mentally ill, for foster kids and displaced homemakers. She was a supporter of historic preservation and is one of the parents of Tacoma’s Union Station restoration and adjoining State History Museum.
Wojahn died the same weekend as the passing of another legend of the Legislature. But Sid Snyder had success using a much different personality – gregariousness, knowledge of the process and an unmatched talent for telling stories.
Snyder began as a Senate elevator operator after serving in World War II and worked his way through House staff to the top Senate administrative job, secretary of the Senate.
A lifelong Democrat, he was trusted enough by Republicans that they kept him in the job during a two-year period when they held the majority.
After retiring from that unelected job, Snyder returned to replace his district’s senator who had died. He rose to Senate majority leader among Democrats who were more liberal and more urban than he. He succeeded because he was liked by nearly everyone and knew the rules and history better than anyone – a knowledge that came from being at the Capitol from 1949-2002.
Snyder, a Long Beach grocer and banker, was the unofficial historian, the go-to guy when the question involved the unwritten history of the place. As busy as the secretary’s job was, it didn’t keep Snyder from wandering over to the press table during the long periods when Republicans and Democrats were in caucus to regale us with stories dating back to his first session.
Hilarious. Illuminating. Fascinating. Some were even true.
Marty Brown, a former secretary of the Senate and now executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, said the beauty of Snyder’s stories was that most happened so long ago they were impossible to fact-check.
Which should make the yet-to-be-published oral history of Snyder, the latest installment in the state’s Legacy Project, a best-seller.Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657