The five-story office building under construction on the Capitol Campus in Olympia is so far nameless, usually referred to as the 1063 Building.
But a group of lawmakers wants it named after former state Rep. Helen Sommers, who served 36 years in the House and earned a reputation as a no-nonsense budget writer who struck good-natured fear into the hearts of new lawmakers.
“Helen was a tiny little thing, but she was just a pistol,” said state Rep. Eileen Cody, a Seattle Democrat who introduced a proposal last week to name the building — at the intersection of Capitol Way South and 11th Avenue — after Sommers. The measure is scheduled to have its first public hearing Wednesday.
Sommers, who represented the 36th Legislative District in Seattle, had “a glance that can freeze a buffalo,” said former Rep. Hans Dunshee, in 2008, according to an oral history written by the Legislature.
Now in hospice care in Florida, Sommers served from 1973 until 2009, Cody said. She spent eight years as a budget writer, and three as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee when the chamber was tied between Republicans and Democrats.
Cody served on the Appropriations Committee with Sommers and described her as a mentor.
Sommers was a budget writer “tight with money,” Cody said. But she also remembers Sommers as a feminist with a passion for increasing access to birth control and contraception for women.
Naming the building after Sommers would be a first, Cody said: No building on the Capitol Campus is named after a woman.
A handful of buildings on the campus have been named after men and the rest have unspecific names or are named after an agency in the office space. A building on the campus wasn’t named for a person until 1985, said Curt Hart, a spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Services.
Two state government buildings in Tumwater are named after women, including the Edna Lucille Goodrich Building, occupied by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Transportation, Hart said.
Goodrich was the first woman to be a superintendent of a correctional facility in Washington, said Jeremy Barclay, a spokesman for DOC.
The 215,000-square-foot 1063 Building is expected to be completed in June, with a move-in date in August, Hart said.
Its main tenants will be the Washington State Patrol, the Office of Financial Management and the state Treasurer’s Office, Hart said. Other government groups also will be housed in the building, including the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
Legislative approval is the final step in the process of naming a building, after consideration by two state committees composed of elected and unelected officials.
This year, the Capitol Campus Design and Oversight Committee recommended the 1063 Building be named for Sommers. The State Capitol Committee is expected to do the same within the next two weeks, Hart said.
Though Cody’s proposal has support from some Republicans in the state House, at least some Senate Republicans have been hesitant to approve the idea. The GOP has a slim majority in the Senate.
Democrats, who control the state House, unsuccessfully tried to put a similar proposal into the state budget last year.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, said there are a “host” of ways to honor Sommers, but he doesn’t support naming the building after her.
Schoesler also criticized the cost of the building. Lawmakers approved $69 million for its construction.
“The building is an embarrassment to the taxpayers — Helen was very good to the taxpayers,” he said. “I’d like to find a better tribute to Helen Sommers.”