Frank Atwood served twelve years in the Washington State Senate, but during his
fairly short tenure rose rapidly through the leadership ranks of the Republican
Party. R. Frank Atwood: An Oral History provides details on his Senate career, including
his expertise in budgetary matters, his strong support for higher education, and
his role in introducing much of the executive reorganization legislation proposed
by Governor Dan Evans. The interview also offers fascinating insights on the dynamics
of leadership and the difficulties that low salaries and the continuing-session
concept imposed on our citizen legislators during the 1970s.
Frank Atwood’s political career began when a friend offered to pay the filing fee
if he ran for the Bellingham City Council. He won the seat in his first political
race and served for six years, including two as president of the council. Disgusted
with a legislative taxation measure that adversely affected cities, Atwood then
decided to run against the incumbent state senator in the 1962 election, and was
elected despite being a Republican in the heavily Democratic Forty-second District.
Republicans were also in the minority in the Senate, but Atwood relished the political
battles that ensued and quickly learned that "knowledge is power" in the Legislature.
His diligence, legal skills, and integrity were only a few of the traits that led
to his rapid rise through the Republican leadership ranks. He became Minority Whip
in 1965, Minority Floor Leader in 1967, and then Republican Caucus Chair in 1970.
He developed a strong interest in the budget and was a member of the Legislative
Budget Committee for ten years. During the very difficult economic times between
1969 and 1971, he served with five other legislators on two Free Conference Committees
in which they hammered out the final state budgets. Frank was also active in higher
education issues and was a particularly strong advocate for Western Washington University,
introducing legislation for a variety of new programs, buildings, and other improvements.
Although sometimes at odds on issues, Senator Atwood also worked closely with Governor
Dan Evans and introduced a number of bills that were part of the Evans legislative
R. Frank Atwood: An Oral History (PDF)