Charles W. Hodde: Mr. Speaker of the House

Charles W. Hodde

Excerpts from:
Charles W. Hodde: Mr. Speaker of the House
Vol. 1 and 2, 1985, 1986

Legislative Oral History Project
Washington State Archives
Office of the Secretary of State

Charles Hodde:
I’d like to mention some other Grange initiatives that I got involved with…The Grange didn’t like the election process here. At the time that I first started voting in this state, when you went in to vote in the primary, you said, “I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican,” or you didn’t get a ticket to vote on. Then, when you voted, you could only vote for Democrats or you could only vote for Republicans. Nobody else got on the ticket. Minor parties could have a convention and nominate, but it never showed up in the primary. The primary, we felt, was where the decisions were largely made. If you can’t participate in a primary on a broad basis, how do you really have the right to two candidates selected for the final?

So the Grange—and I helped—drafted that one (initiative). I’d gotten far enough along then to help start writing these things. We filed an initiative to the Legislature for a blanket primary, just exactly like we have today, in which you can vote for the person of your choice. The political designation follows the name, but it can be either Democrat or Republican and the Democrat and the Republican with the highest vote total appears on the general election ballot. An initiative to the Legislature, and this was the first time that this had been done... no, I’m not sure, either... but anyhow, in an initiative to the Legislature, the Legislature first has an opportunity to pass it. If they pass it, it never does go to a vote of the people, unless there is a referendum on it. They have the first opportunity. So the Grange decided to take a chance on this.

The reason we did it, in planning for it—and again I take some credit for this—I think it was the only time we ever got all the signatures on an initiative, virtually all of them, in one day. The way we did it, we had Grangers and other people that were supportive…labor unions helped us some in the cities…On the primary election day in 1934, early in September I believe it was, we tried to have somebody…two people—we wanted them in pairs—at every polling place with strict instructions: “Never talk to anybody before they go in to booth. That is against the law. When they come out, you can talk to them.” When they come out, we had them schooled. I’m a great believer that you have to school your signature gatherers if you want to be successful. “Ask these questions, don’t ask any other questions: Did you have to tell them that you were a Democrat or Republican to vote?” “Why, I sure did.” “Would you like to have an election where you didn’t have to do that, you vote for anybody you want?” “I sure would, let me sign.” We just collected I don’t remember, over 100,000 signatures in one day, which was more that were required.

It was initiated to the Legislature in that matter. The papers had freely predicted that it would have to go to a vote of the people, that you’d never get the politicians in office, that got elected under the old system, to go for a new system. I was lobbying for the Grange when it came up in the Legislature and we didn’t have a great deal of difficulty in the House, but it really got stalled in the Senate. It actually passed the House rather easily, something like eighty percent of them voted for it, eighty out of ninety-nine or something of that type; however in the Senate it was extremely close. There was some confusion, which is sort of interesting I think, because nobody had ever had a vote taken on an initiative to the Legislature before. The Grange power bill [Initiative Number One] they just ignored it and it went to the people at the next election, but in this one there was the question of whether it had to be turned into a bill form in order to be voted on, or whether it really would be presented, not as bill number so-and-so, but as an initiative to the Legislature. The Senate actually kicked this around quite a bit. They finally agreed on a way to do it and, of course, it’s been used since that, but it was handled as an initiative without a bill number, was my recollection of it. It got into the Senate and it was extremely close, the tally there.

I recall a senator from Walla Walla name Brunton, very conservative gentleman; I talked to him repeatedly about the desirability of this. That it wouldn’t wreck the parties. That they’d have to come up with good candidates and that it would be a benefit to them, really, to have good candidates file, that they could get their Democrat friends as well as their Republican friends to support them. His closing comment, he said, “Charlie, I’m not going to vote for this, but I want tot tell you one thing, if I ever get charged with murder, I want you for my lawyer.” I thought that was kind of a nice compliment.

Senator Brunton—he did not vote for it on final passage, he told me he wouldn’t—but he was sufficiently interested to help keep it from getting killed. When thee was an effort to postpone it indefinitely, when it looked like it might get killed, he voted with the supporters, so we had a close situation there. We did finally get it through. We got a favorable vote in the Senate.

Then the Spokesman Review had a little front page ditty by their Olympia correspondent after it had passed the Legislature in which was headed, “Charlie Hodde, King of Lobbyists. He did it!” Now that was quite a show for a little kid off the farm who’d only been around a couple years. To have that…and he pointed out that I had been able to lobby through the Legislature—particularly single-handed—this thing they had all agreed earlier, could not possibly pass a Legislature.

There had been numerous efforts to mount campaigns against it in the past fifty years. None of which have gotten off the ground. People like it. They like it that way. There may be a theoretical or idealistic factor that the party ought to pick its own candidates, but the people think they ought to pick them and it stood.

Charles Hodde: A Brief Biography

Charles Hodde became an institution in the halls of the state Capitol Building, where he held court over coffee in the public cafeteria on all manner of legislative and political issues stretching back to his days as a Grange lobbyist in the early 1930s and covering all ensuing eras when he was a state representative, Speaker of the House, gubernatorial candidate and agency director. Although he sometimes introduced himself as “dirt farmer” Charlie was a superb legislative strategist, a tax expert and a gifted administrator.

Born in Missouri in 1906, he describes a boyhood on a hardscrabble farm and his later adventures looking for work as he explored the country. He arrived in Colefax in 1929, married and settled into a life of farming and logging. Soon, he was drawn into work of the Grange and was involved in their campaigns for tax reform, public power and the blanket primary. He gained a reputation in Olympia that led to his election as a representative in 1937, again in 1943 and subsequent sessions until he rose to the Speakership for the terms of 1949 and 1951. He then ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1952. He returned for a time to Grange work and running his electric wiring business and farm, but was soon tapped by Governor Rosellini to head the state Tax Commission as the chief revenue officer of the state. Later, he also was appointed by Rosellini as director of General Administration to create a new statewide purchasing system. In 1965, Hodde was then appointed the Northwest Regional Coordinator for the Federal Department of the Interior.

Hodde served in many capacities throughout his life, informally as an advisor to successive governors, formally as a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors. He was often called upon to serve on committees dealing with tax reform and other issues. He served on the Toll Bridge Authority, was involved in the planning for the East Capitol Campus, chaired the River Basin Commission and acted as a consultant on reclamation issues, energy questions and several other questions before the Legislature. In 1977, Governor Dixy Lee Ray appointed him Director of Revenue.

Later, Hodde acted as a lobbyist for various groups and causes, always keeping abreast of issues and dropping by the offices of decision-makers to share his store of wisdom and experience. Whether in a suit and tie or farmer’s overalls, his stories and views were listened to with respect and some degree of awe as he could regale his audience with details of some Depression-era campaign as easily as current-day struggles with public policy. Although he passed away in 1999, he is still missed and often quoted; he was a master politician and public servant.