New biography examines Spellman's long political career

News Release
Issued: February 19, 2013

OLYMPIA...John Spellman, the former King County executive who became Washington’s most recent Republican governor, is the subject of a biography produced by a prolific history-based program of the Office of Secretary of State.   

The book is entitled "John Spellman: Politics Never Broke His Heart," written by former newspaper editor and publisher John C. Hughes, now the chief historian for The Legacy Project, a program created by the office in 2008. Hughes also wrote biographies about former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and Spellman’s successor as governor, Booth Gardner. 

"John Spellman is a rarity in Washington politics – the first county commissioner and first county executive to be elected governor," said Secretary of State Kim Wyman. "This book captures not only John’s rise through local politics to King County executive and the Governor’s Mansion, but it gives readers a riveting picture of the political climate in the county and state from the 1960s to the 1980s. John Hughes has written another must-read book for followers of local and state politics."  

A Spellman book launch event is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Rainier Club, 820 – 4th Ave. in Seattle. The event is invitation only, but media are encouraged to attend.

The hardbound book, printed with private funds, is available for purchase after the Feb. 22 book launch for $35 at the State Seal store, located in the Office of Secretary of State on the second floor of the Legislative Building and online, and at the Legislative Gift Shop, found on the first floor of the Legislative Building. It also will be sold at

A free electronic version will be available online on The Legacy Project website after Feb. 22.

Spellman was born in 1926 in Seattle and attended Seattle Preparatory School until leaving midway through his senior year to enroll in the Merchant Marine program during World War II. After a stint in the Navy, Spellman graduated from Seattle University as valedictorian in 1949 and then graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1952.

Elected a King County commissioner in 1966, Spellman defeated former Governor Al Rosellini for King County executive in 1969, becoming the first county executive in the state. As King County’s first executive, Spellman led its difficult transformation to a modern government. His accomplishments include helping secure the construction of the Kingdome, leading to the arrival of the Seahawks and Mariners, which helped make Seattle a big-league city.            

In 1980, Spellman became governor after defeating Democrat challenger Jim McDermott. Spellman lost his re-election bid to Gardner in 1984.

Jerry Grinstein, a former top aide to the late U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson, a longtime Spellman ally, views the progressive Seattle Republican as "our state’s most underrated public official." Former Governor Chris Gregoire, who headed the state Department of Ecology earlier in her career, says Spellman’s 1982 decision to reject the Northern Tier Pipeline Company’s application to install an oil pipeline with the capacity of a million barrels a day beneath Puget Sound was a profile in courage in the face of a full-court press by the Reagan administration. When the economy went south during Gregoire’s second term, Spellman was among the first to offer bipartisan support for balancing taxes and cuts and protecting school funding and social services.

The biography about Spellman is The Legacy Project’s 10th printed book. Other biographies include Gardner, Gorton, former U.S. Representative Jennifer Dunn and Native American activist Billy Frank Jr.

The Legacy Project has published a number of oral histories in print. Subjects include former first lady Nancy Evans, longtime political reporter Adele Ferguson and civil rights pioneer Lillian Walker. Additionally, the program released a book on the historically close gubernatorial contest in 2004.

In cooperation with the Legislature’s oral history program, The Legacy Project unveiled a new book on former Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder earlier this month.

The Legacy Project’s books have not been published at public expense.

The program also has produced oral histories on astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, State Supreme Court justices Carolyn Dimmick, Charles Z. Smith and Robert F. Utter, and rocker-turned-political-activist Krist Novoselic.

The Legacy Project e-book series is available free of charge online.