Former Gov. Spellman dies

January 16, 2018 GMT

John Spellman, an affable pipe-smoking executive who was Washington’s last Republican governor, died Monday at age 91.

Spellman, a lawyer who served 12 years as King County’s first county executive, was elected governor in 1980 as Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory gave Republicans control of the Legislature and the executive mansion.

He took the reins of state government just as a recession hit Washington, which led to high unemployment and declining tax revenues. Spellman and other Republicans had campaigned against tax increases, after a heated fight they did raise the sales tax by 1 percentage point.


After running unsuccessfully for re-election in 1984, he returned to private law practice. But his successors often sought his advice in how to deal with controversial issues in the Legislature.

“Gov. John Spellman was one of the nicest people in public life I ever met,” Democrat Jay Inslee, the current occupant of the office, said Tuesday. “He was a great example of an office holder unafraid to do the right thing, leaving a legacy of bipartisanship and civility in politics, despite the electoral consequences.

Spellman laid the groundwork for protecting the Puget Sound from oil spills and preserve the state’s natural beauty, Inslee said. As King County executive, he was instrumental in bringing major league baseball and football to Seattle.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, one of only two statewided elected Republicans, called Spellman a true statesman who was deeply spiritual and promoted racial equality and environmentalism.

“Personally, I greatly admired Gov. Spellman for his integrity, his vision and his tireless dedication to the people of Washington,” Wyman said.