Jeannette Hayner

Jeannette Hayner "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 in 1992.

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 years.

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."


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: An Oral History

A Portrait of Leadership

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 appointments 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

Walla Walla HighSchool 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.

Leadership in the Washington State Legislature: Further Resources

Jeannette Hayner, 1975

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: