Bezango: Happy Birthday, Rosy!

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by StevenL, 1/27/10

Hopefully by the time this column sees print, Albert Dean Rosellini, the oldest living ex-governor in the United States, will have celebrated his 100th birthday on January 21st. [Editor’s note: Yes, he did.]

He entered the world in 1910, only a year after the executive mansion where he would later reside was built. Democrat Rosellini served as Washington State Governor from 1957-1965. Although he wasn’t the state CEO when I was born, he’s the first one I remember.

Before I ramble on let me preface this with some personal trivia. My dad was a libertarian Goldwater Republican, my mom a Stevenson Democrat. Dinnertime discussion on current events was always lively, but never in the destructive way later made popular by Limbaugh and company.

So I grew up hearing both sides. My earliest political memory involves a bunch of young guys in their twenties, including my father, gathering in our garage. Painting big red letters on a white background, they were creating an enormous sign for Supt. Of Public Instruction Lloyd Andrews, Rosellini’s opponent in 1960. I tagged along when it was hauled in our 1940s Dodge pickup to the west end of the 4th Ave Bridge, where it was proudly erected.

In later years I asked my father what sort of political belief motivated him to be so involved in the Andrews campaign. He candidly replied he expected to be rewarded with a job. So there it is.

The following year Gov. Rosellini stood on the east foundation of the Winged Victory statue as he hosted the annual Easter Egg Hunt. A highly personable man, the Gov was available for backslapping, baby kissing and glad-handing. My father joked that I should go up and inform Al that I was the son of a Republican.

By the time I got to shake Gov. Rosellini’s hand, I realized that the word “Republican” didn’t fall trippingly from the tongue. Instead, the amiable Al asked where my parents were. When I pointed at my folks, who were standing about 100 feet away, I couldn’t understand why my dad had turned so pale and looked anxious.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly interrogated when I returned to my family unit.

On another occasion my brother, Bryan, who was probably three years old at the time, wandered away from us and vanished into the crowd during the Puyallup Fair. Our brief but frantic search for him came to an end when we saw his blond head towering over the crowd.

Bryan was riding on the shoulders of the Governor.

I knew someone would see him if I had the little fellow up there long enough,” Rosellini said, or something close to it.

One of the sights that always fascinated me when visiting the Capitol Campus during the Rosellini Administration was the flock of sheep grazing on the lawn in front of the Executive Mansion. The area wasn’t fenced off in those days, so I suppose in addition to protecting the Governor the State Patrol probably had shepherd duties as well.

Walt Crowley’s HistoryLink entry on the Governor states: “Rosellini first term was one of the most progressive and productive in state history.” And indeed it was, as he extended the FDR liberalism to education, social services, the criminal justice system, roads, libraries and institutions. The Seattle World’s Fair took place under his watch.

Those were good years here in McCleary (my current home) during the “Operation Second Growth” revitalization program. Gov. Rosellini was so supportive of this local effort that his official portrait remained hanging over the mayor’s door into the early 1990s.

But, as Crowley points out: “Partisan divisions and miscellaneous ‘scandals’ stymied much of Rosellini’s program during his second term.”

In 1964, while trying for a third term, Rosellini was defeated by a very young Daniel J. Evans. The Seattle Republican had made political hay out of the fact that three terms was too many for any governor.

In one of those funny little ironies, when Evans ran for his own third term, guess who ran against him? Big Al!

As I recall it was a bitterly fought campaign. Rosellini had become considerably more conservative by 1972, running to the right of Evans. It was not unusual to see Evans and McGovern bumper stickers side by side.

The local Rosellini campaign HQ was located on the NW corner of Capital Way and Union, where a Subway shop now sits. A couple of us starry-eyed McGovern volunteers brought them a sign for our guy. They politely put it up in their front window to display. A few minutes later when we drove around the block, we noticed they had already removed the sign. And we laughed.

And both of our campaigns failed.

It amazes me that out of the nine people who have served as Governor in my lifetime only Arthur Langlie and Dixy Lee Radiation are no longer with us. Of the survivors, Rosellini is the oldest, with a political career that began in FDR’s first term.

Happy 100 years, Al!

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