Former Washington governor Mike Lowry made no excuses for his political trajectory. He was a proud liberal and Democrat, all the way.
Lowry, who died this week at age 78 after a stroke, served a single term as the state’s top executive during 1993-97. Before that he served on the King County Council and spent a decade in Congress representing the 7th district, mostly during the Reagan years.
Lowry will be remembered by many as someone who stood for his beliefs and was willing to risk his popularity on causes he supported. Other governors have been far more timid.
After taking office as governor in 1993, Lowry pushed for health care coverage for virtually all state residents. But his plan to require businesses to offer health coverage to workers was rolled back by Republicans who took over the statehouse in 1995.
As a congressman, Lowry introduced the first bill to pay reparations to Japanese Americans who had been rounded up and relocated to internment camps during World War II. The bill died, but President Reagan later signed legislation in 1988 that provided an apology and payments of $20,000 to surviving Japanese Americans and Aleuts who had been imprisoned.
Lowry also was a champion for the environment and backed gay rights.
Lowry left the governor’s office under a cloud. An aide had brought charges of sexual harassment, which Lowry denied and claimed were a misinterpretation of his hugs and touches. Still, he paid the aide to end any legal action. Lowry then stepped aside from a re-election bid in 1996.
He staged a political comeback in 2000 but ultimately lost to Republican Doug Sutherland in the race for state lands commissioner.
Lowry was a longtime advocate of preserving the environment and public lands. Along with former Republican three-term governor Dan Evans, Lowry co-founded the nonprofit Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition in 1987.
The coalition’s board chair, Deborah Jensen, said this week that without Lowry the coalition “would not have been able to secure over $1.3 billion for outdoor recreation and conservation, preserving some of our state’s most treasured landscapes and natural areas.’’
With Evans’ help, the coalition has played a key role in protecting land by purchasing it to keep it out of development. Its ongoing efforts boost state investments in recreational lands and habitat are deserving of great praise, and our state owes much to Lowry and Evans for this.
Mike Lowry was a friendly man who grew up in a small town in Whitman County. He attended Washington State University before making his mark in Seattle and state politics.
His lack of varnish was part of his charm. We’ll remember him as a political leader who tried to stay true to his causes.