Editor’s note: This is an edited excerpt of “Daniel J. Evans: An Autobiography.” Dan Evans’ autobiography, a Legacy Washington book, will be available for purchase in February at the Secretary of State’s website.
MY 90 YEARS of Seattle memories can be stirred by the simple act of driving past a building on a street corner. Sometimes on Denny Way, I flash back to a sea of marchers filling two street lanes for 10 blocks. We were headed for Seattle Center, our numbers growing by the block, in a show of solidarity after one of the darkest days of a cataclysmic year: 1968.
In January, the North Vietnamese had launched their surprise Tet Offensive. In February, the Pentagon reported a one-week casualty total that topped 3,000 for the first time. And the “New Nixon” announced his candidacy for president. In March, Eugene McCarthy nearly won the New Hampshire Democratic primary. Robert F. Kennedy, smelling blood, jumped in. And a haggard-looking Lyndon B. Johnson bowed out.
In the middle of all that, I announced my decision to seek a second term as Washington’s governor. Our first fundraiser drew 2,500 cheering supporters, who in one night donated $200,000, almost half of the funds needed for the 1968 campaign. I said our 1964 “Blueprint for Progress” had become a reality. We had created 100,000 new jobs in each of the past three years, with record personal incomes; strong industrial development; a record budget for schools, colleges and universities; and strong environmental legislation.
April 4, 1968, had been an uneventful Thursday at the governor’s office until staff members burst in to say that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot dead on a Memphis motel-room balcony. He had come to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. Cautioning them to avoid violence, Dr. King said peaceful demonstrations would underscore the justice of their cause. Be resolute, he counseled. Though there had been countless threats against his life and violence against people peaceably assembled to seek justice, he vowed, “We aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around. We aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
It struck me then — as it does now, all these years later — as one of the bravest, most eloquent speeches I’d ever heard. And tragically prophetic.
That Sunday, I joined the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney and the Rev. John Adams — good friends of Dr. King — and other African American clergy to lead a memorial procession that grew by the block. Thanks to wise community leaders who spoke out, and distraught citizens who listened, we were spared the violence that wracked America. But two months later, Bobby Kennedy was murdered after winning the California primary. The TV footage was soul-searing: Kennedy mortally wounded on the floor of a hotel kitchen, a rosary in an outstretched hand, his distraught wife kneeling alongside. Thinking about my wife and our three young sons, I seriously considered whether it was worth continuing to face the turmoil and danger of political office. As I weighed Dr. King’s bravery and my commitment to public service, I realized that danger was part of the job, and that I was probably at greater risk traveling the freeway than facing an attacker.
I ALSO HAD acquired a brave new friend who would declare, “The name of the game is to put some economic flesh and bones on Dr. King’s dream.” His name was Arthur Fletcher. After moving to the Tri-Cities to work at the Hanford nuclear site, the former NFL player had organized a community self-help program in predominantly Black East Pasco.
Sam Reed and Chris Bayley, two of the brightest young guys I’d ever met, launched a political action movement in 1968 that harnessed the restless energy of a new generation of moderate Republicans. They were frustrated by Vietnam and passionate about civil rights. “Action for Washington” staked out a big-tent approach. “We didn’t care if you were a Republican, Democrat or independent,” Reed remembers.
A future three-term secretary of state, Reed became executive director of my Urban Affairs Council in 1967 after receiving a master’s degree in political science from Washington State University. He was 27. Bayley, 29, a future King County prosecutor, was a descendant of one of Seattle’s most-respected old-line families. He arrived back home from Harvard in 1966 and landed at a top Seattle law firm.
When Reed joined my staff as an intern, one of his first assignments was to work with Secretary of State Lud Kramer, House GOP leader Slade Gorton and Seattle civic activist Jim Ellis to draft an urban affairs report. When Reed met Fletcher, a Pasco city councilman, he saw a rising star.
Action for Washington quickly attracted 2,500 idealistic young people from around the state.
Though polls indicated Nixon was leading Vice President Hubert Humphrey nationally, they also forecast a Democratic trend in our state. Regardless of which Democrat emerged from the gubernatorial primary — Attorney General John J. O’Connell or State Sen. Martin J. Durkan — I was facing a tough race. Kramer’s road to a second term as secretary of state looked easier. But Gorton was in a tight race for attorney general. Fletcher, whom we recruited to run for lieutenant governor, was in uncharted waters as an African American candidate for statewide office.
The Reed-Bayley masterstroke was to create the first, and to date only, effective party ticket in Washington state history. They dubbed us “The Action Team for an action time.” Each flyer, full-page ad and TV spot featured our foursome, “striding forward side by side with clean-cut confidence.”
BREAKFAST ON AUG. 21, 1968, was rudely interrupted by a banner newspaper headline on the front page: “PINBALL KING IS TAILED TO HOME OF PROSECUTOR.” The Post-Intelligencer and KING Broadcasting’s new Seattle magazine had teamed up to investigate Seattle’s longstanding “tolerance” policy toward gambling. The probe focused on the relationship between King County’s powerful prosecutor, Charles O. Carroll, and Ben Cichy, an official with the pinball operators’ coalition. The group had held the master license for pinball operations in the county since 1942, with annual revenues estimated at $5 million. The P-I’s story, complete with surveillance photos, asserted that Cichy visited Carroll’s home monthly.
Carroll said he was “too busy” to discuss the issue. He kept stonewalling, even when KING-TV offered airtime for a rebuttal. The exposé ballooned into a distraction that affected me both as campaigner and governor.
“Chuck” Carroll, a legendary halfback for the University of Washington in the late 1920s, was in his 20th year as prosecutor. He was King County’s “Mr. Republican.” Now, however, he was facing a withering media attack, and his hold on courthouse patronage was being challenged by reformers, notably County Commissioner John Spellman. Carroll and the King County GOP chairman, Ken Rogstad, were especially intent on derailing Gorton’s campaign for attorney general. There was no telling what sort of mischief someone so bright and independent could unleash, they feared.
O’Connell and Durkan jumped in, portraying all Republicans as birds of a feather. Durkan, who headed a legislative interim committee, vowed to hold hearings. O’Connell resolved to launch “a full-scale investigation into strong suggestions of organized vice in King County.” However, under state law, he needed my approval. I was determined to keep a King County brouhaha out of the race for governor. Absent hard evidence of cronyism, I saw the case against Carroll as largely innuendo. Clearly, he was haughty and indiscreet — an old-school power broker. But was he really taking payoffs? I met with him twice, examined his financial records and could find no clear evidence he was on the take. Regardless, his reputation was tarnished. (When he ran for reelection in 1970, he was defeated in the Republican primary by Bayley.)
O’Connell balked at sharing with a judge whatever leads he had concerning organized crime, saying a grand jury would be premature. Durkan’s hearings never got off the ground.
WITH ALBERT F. CANWELL, the old anti-Communist zealot from Spokane, as my token opposition in the Republican primary — he maintained I was “actually a socialist” — I was eager to see who my real opponent would be. When O’Connell edged Durkan, I was somewhat relieved. Durkan understood the intricacies of state government and budgeting far better than O’Connell. (I endorsed Durkan’s daughter Jenny, a bright former U.S. Attorney, when she was elected mayor of Seattle in 2017, a job she soon found daunting.) In O’Connell, however, I was now facing an experienced campaigner. The three-term attorney general was an accomplished public speaker who worked crowds with his Irish wit.
The entire “Action Team” advanced to the general election. Fletcher handily outpolled Bill Muncey, the famous hydroplane racer, to win the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor against the two-term incumbent, John Cherberg. For attorney general, Gorton would face John G. McCutcheon, an old-guard Democrat from Tacoma. Kramer, a liberal former Seattle City Council member, was renominated for secretary of state in a landslide.
The conventional wisdom is that an incumbent — particularly one with a substantial lead — should avoid debates. I plowed ahead, confident in my knowledge of state government. I also believe debates offer voters a real opportunity to size up candidates head to head. By 1968, TV’s ability to bring the news into everyone’s front room was a game-changer (witness the coverage of Vietnam and the horror-show 1968 Democratic National Convention).
At the first of three televised debates, I said the paramount issue in the campaign was whether I was living up to the promises I’d made in 1964. O’Connell responded forcefully, dismissing my “so-called blueprint” as smoke and mirrors. He stumbled badly, however, in response to a question regarding welfare-law reforms designed to encourage recipients to seek work. “Of course, most of the money we get in our state to defray the public assistance costs, or welfare costs, comes from Uncle Sam. … I don’t think welfare, if I can use that term, is a serious problem in the state.” I pounced: “The federal government doesn’t handle most of our public assistance problem. Every dollar that comes from the federal government to this state is matched by a state dollar. But the important thing is that all the money comes from the taxpayers, and it would be foolish in the extreme for anyone to believe welfare abuse isn’t really a serious problem.”
The next round took a sensational turn. The Seattle Times’ ace investigative reporters, John Wilson and Marshall Wilson, reported that the attorney general had a $10,000 line of credit at a Las Vegas hotel in 1965. Gambling is legal in Las Vegas, of course, as a livid O’Connell immediately took pains to point out. But $10,000 was far from penny-ante stuff. To many, the revelation suggested that the vice-fighting attorney general had suspect proclivities.
O’Connell issued a 6,000-word “white paper” declaring that my campaign had ferreted out his visits to Vegas, leaked the news to the newspaper, and drummed up a bogus scandal in an attempt to derail his probe of vice in Seattle and defeat his bid for governor.
A new statewide poll showed me leading O’Connell 52-37 with 11% undecided. We didn’t need a scandal to seal the deal. In fact, a tactic like that would have been risky. Why would we give O’Connell an opportunity to portray us as playing dirty tricks and generate a backlash?
Then The Times revealed that another check, this one for $12,625, had been cashed by O’Connell at the Hotel Tropicana.
I WON A second term with nearly 55% of the vote, carrying King County by nearly 93,000 votes. (How times have changed.)
On election night, Kramer was on his way to a 64% landslide, while Fletcher and Gorton were running very close races. We had cultivated the absentees. I began to think Action for Washington might score a clean sweep. When all the ballots were tallied nine days later, Gorton was elected attorney general by some 5,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast.
Sadly, Fletcher came up short in his bid to become Washington’s first Black statewide elected official. After leading through the early returns, he lost to Lt. Gov. Cherberg by 48,000 votes. Tellingly, the Democrat carried King County by 2,100 votes, while Kramer, Gorton and I won handily in the state’s most populous county. Cherberg also won conservative Lewis County.
Race clearly mattered in the contest for lieutenant governor. I was enormously disappointed, envisioning Fletcher as a close partner during my second term as we advanced civil rights in Washington. We were appalled when we discovered that a right-wing Yakima weekly backing George Wallace for president had produced a racist smear against Fletcher. The flyer was circulated in working-class white neighborhoods during the closing days of the campaign.
Our state’s loss was America’s gain. Fletcher became the Nixon administration’s point man for landmark Affirmative Action efforts and went on to head the United Negro College Fund. He helped craft its eloquent slogan: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The Action Team’s legacy reached across America.