Former Gov. Mike Lowry, a proud liberal Democrat who fought to expand health care and to secure reparations for Japanese Americans interned during World War II, has died.
Lowry, 78, died Monday following complications from a stroke, according to a statement from his family released by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
“Trudi and I send our sincere condolences to the Lowry family and friends. Mike Lowry served with compassion and humility. He had a big heart and cared deeply about the people of this state,” Inslee said in a statement.
Born in St. John, Whitman County, Lowry graduated from Endicott High School and from Washington State University.
Known as a “vociferous, table-pounding liberal” — as local nonprofit HistoryLink put it — Lowry spent 19 years in public office. First elected to the Metropolitan King County Council in 1975, he was elected in 1978 to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 7th Congressional District for a decade.
Lowry served one term as governor, from 1993 to 1997.
A statement from his family called Lowry “a passionate defender” for people and the environment.
“Mike was known as a courageous leader who was often willing to take early stands on sometimes controversial issues, and this courage plus his straightforward nature garnered respect from those in all political parties,” the statement said.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement: “His determined fight for liberal ideals will always be remembered by the working people whose lives he put front and center every day during his 20 years of public service, first as a Metropolitan King County Council member, then as a member of Congress, and finally as a scrappy governor.”
As a freshman congressman, Lowry proposed the first legislation to give restitution to more than 100,000 Japanese Americans and Aleuts interned in prison camps during World War II.
His bill did not pass, but helped spark efforts that led to the eventual signing by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 of legislation that offered a formal apology and $20,000 to each surviving victim.
Lowry also championed successful efforts to preserve wilderness and marine habitat in Washington state.
Elected governor in 1992, Lowry served a single, controversial term marked by fights over taxes and budget issues.
He launched an early experiment in health care reform, signing a bill to provide universal health coverage. But it never went into full effect. Within a couple years the core of the law — an individual health insurance mandate — was repealed by Republicans, leading to a cratering of the individual insurance market.
Lowry’s political career wound down in 1996 when he declined to seek re-election following accusations of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations, saying his friendly pats and hugs had been misunderstood.
The only case to be formally investigated was resolved when Lowry agreed to pay a former deputy press secretary, Susanne Albright, $97,500 to prevent a lawsuit. Lowry ran unsuccessfully for state lands commissioner in 2000.
After leaving office, Lowry volunteered for nonprofit organizations, including one building homes for migrant farmworkers in Central Washington.
Memorial services have not been announced.