"There have been many outstanding women in the Washington State Legislature but
only one so far has reached the top rung of power. Her achievements are so remarkable
(and little known) that she deserves more than just a reference. Her story bridges
the eras of women getting the right to vote, getting elected, taking power, and
making a difference.
Jeannette Hayner was born in 1919 in Portland, Oregon, one year before women were
given the right to vote nationally. She received her B.A. from the University of
Oregon and was one of only two women to graduate from the University of Oregon Law
School in 1942. She met her husband there and they moved to Walla Walla in 1947.
She raised three children, was active in a variety of civic and charitable organizations
and served as chair of the Walla Walla School Board.
In 1972, with her children grown, Hayner decided to run for an open seat in the
state Legislature. In a close election, Hayner defeated three primary opponents
and a Democrat in the general election. When she took her seat in the state House
in 1973, there was one other woman in her Republican caucus and six women in the
House Democratic caucus. There were no women in the Senate. After four years, party
officials asked Representative Hayner to run for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat
Dan Jolly. She agreed, was successful again, and would be reelected every four years
until her retirement in 1992.
Republicans were outnumbered thirty to nineteen when Hayner arrived in the state
Senate in 1977. They hadn't held a majority in the Senate since 1955. Some thought
that Republican leaders had adopted the mentality of a permanent minority, had given
up on gaining a majority. Shortly after joining the Senate, Hayner was cautiously
sounded out about making a change in leadership in order to seek power by a Republican
majority rather than through coalitions with conservative Democrats. For the next
year she was part of a growing group of Senate Republicans who secretly met off
campus. They gradually became a majority within their minority caucus and decided
to make their move at the end of the 1979 session. None of the originators of the
coup could garner a majority in their caucus so they turned to Hayner. She emerged
as Senate Republican Leader in 1979 and would hold that position until her retirement
On February 13, 1981, Senator Peter von Reichbauer from Vashon Island switched from
the Democratic to the Republican Party giving Republicans control of the Senate
for the first time in twenty-six years. Jeannette Hayner was suddenly the Senate
Majority Leader. It had been so long since Republicans had held power in the Senate
that they sought help from legislative leaders from other states to advise them
as to procedures to accomplish a smooth transition in the middle of a session. Hayner
learned well and she continued to lead the Senate Republicans for the next thirteen
A small, slender woman with a sly sense of humor, Hayner never tried to be "one
of the boys." She eschewed the feminist movement. Rather like the fi rst woman senator,
Reba Hurn, Hayner let her qualifi cations and abilities speak for themselves. In
the somewhat gentrifi ed Senate where it is easy to succumb to the fl attery of
staff and lobbyists, and where a few of her fellow legislators adopted morals of
convenience, Hayner kept her small-town values and her sense of proportion. She
led by displaying the traits of leadership: decisive, consistent, rational, confi
dent. She tried to keep abreast of the political and personal needs of the other
twenty-four members of her caucus. She listened to their needs, their differing
visions of what the party must do. She never belittled or personally criticized
opponents in either party. She stressed cooperation and conversation with House
members, something unusual for many senators.
Republicans lost their Senate majority in the 1982 elections but regained a one-vote
majority when Linda Smith (R-Vancouver) won an off-year election in 1987. From late
1987 through 1992, Hayner led her slim Republican majority in the Senate against
a heavily Democratic House and a popular Democratic governor. Hayner instilled a
strong sense of unity in her Republican members. Their only hope for success depended
on presenting a common front. She insisted that differences among Republican senators
be hashed out internally behind the closed caucus doors. She established what was
called "the rule of thirteen." Republicans would vote on bills and issues in caucus
and a simple majority of thirteen would be binding on all twenty-fi ve. Senator
Hayner turned her small, sometimes fractious and very diverse Republican Senate
majority into a powerful, united and effective force that was able to deal on a
par with the Democratic House and the governor."
EDWARD D. SEEBERGER
Jeannette Hayner: An Oral History
A Portrait of Leadership
Sine Die: A Guide to the Washington State Legislative Process
1997 Edition, pages 144-146
University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1997
Used with permission from the author
Jeannette Hayner filled leadership positions from an early age. At the University
of Oregon she served as vice president of the student body organization and president
of Mortar Board. After moving to Walla Walla, she quickly became involved in community
organizations. Lists of her offices and
and awards of recognition
demonstrate the breadth of her interests and the important role she played in her
community, state and region. Jeannette Hayner emerged as a leader in whatever realm
she involved herself.
Leadership in the Walla Walla Community
Jeannette Hayner early demonstrated her leadership abilities in her years of service
on the Walla Walla School Board, 1956-1963, two of which she served as chairman.
These were years of great controversy in the community as it faced new growth and
the need for change in the post-war era. Jeannette Hayner supported the building
of a new campus-style high school and worked assiduously to create a majority in
favor of the design and location she favored in the face of vocal opposition. The
school wasn't completed and opened for students until 1964, but Jeannette succeeded
in pushing through her vision of what was needed for a modern school.
An essay submitted by the Hayner family describes her tenacity and skill during
the community debate on the high school issue:
"Jeannette Hayner's Impact on Walla Walla Schools" (unattributed)
Follow Jeannette Hayner's distinctive problem-solving
approach in this list of Walla Walla Union-Bulletin articles on School Board issues.
Leadership in the Washington State Legislature: Further Resources
As a legislator, Jeannette Hayner quickly rose into positions of leadership and
was the first woman to achieve election to the top position in her caucus, where
she served as both Minority and Majority Leader of the Senate Republicans. The following
collection of news articles explores some of the highlights of her career:
"Hahner: Ability Comes Before Issues,"
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, September 15, 1972
"State Senate GOP Revolts and Picks a
New Leader," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 31, 1979
"Senate G.O.P. Picks New Leadership,"
Seattle Times, May 31, 1979
"Rapid Rise to Top Post for Freshman from Walla
Walla," Seattle Times, June 1, 1979
"Hayner is GOP's New 'Star' in
Senate," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1979
"Jeannette Hayner G.O.P. Caucus Leader,"
Seattle Times, November 8, 1980
"Minority Leader is Queen of the 'Men's
Club'," Seattle Times, January 4, 1981
"Legislature's Titans too Pragmatic to Clash,"
Seattle Times, February 14, 1988
"Olympia's Iron Lady puts Steel in State GOP
at 72," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 4, 1991
"Hayner Won't Run," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin,
May 6, 1992
"GOP Boss Hayner to Retire," Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, May 6, 1992
"Hayner to Quit, Leave Big Void in GOP," Seattle
Times, May 6, 1992
Tireless Energy to 16th District," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, May 7, 1992
"Democrats Give 'Change' a Bad Name,"
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, May 21, 1993
A Collection of Jeannette Hayner's Campaign