FOR all that he accomplished, Gov. Booth Gardner, who died last week at 76, will be remembered longest for his last political act, his campaign for Washington’s assisted-suicide law. He put $455,000 of his own money into that campaign, which was more than any other person. More important, he put himself into the cause.
It was a bold act. The Catholic Church disagreed with him, and several of its organizations donated money to oppose him. His son disagreed with him. Such a law existed in only one state, Oregon, by vote of the people. There, the Legislature tried to repeal it and two U.S. attorneys general tried to overturn it in court. To many people, assisted dying was threatening and alien.
Gardner put a public face on it. People knew him. They remembered him as the Democratic governor from 1985 to 1992, and that he had been no radical. They knew he was sick, with Parkinson’s disease. In 2008 they voted for the law. Washington is now one of only three states with such a law.
Gardner had many jobs, including a stint in the state Senate and as U.S. ambassador to the organization that became the World Trade Organization. Mostly he was a steadfast manager — chief executive at Laird Norton Co., director at the University of Puget Sound’s business school, executive of Pierce County and governor of Washington.
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As governor he signed an order banning smoking in state workplaces, and another banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in state employment. He signed the Growth Management Act and the law creating the Basic Health Plan.
He appointed the first racial minority, Charles Z. Smith, to the Washington Supreme Court. He appointed future Gov. Chris Gregoire to head the Department of Ecology and hired as chief of staff Denny Heck, who was elected to Congress in November.
Gardner loved to visit classrooms. He wanted to reform public education so that more of the money went into instruction rather than bureaucracy. In that, he was not successful. Always, some jobs are left for the next generation of leaders.