Jolene Unsoeld

“If you try to stay on the sidelines, you’re just deceiving yourself so you have to find that inner strength to keep going.”

- Jolene Unsoeld

jolene unsoeld

In 1988, at the height of the spotted owl controversy, Jolene meets with the crew at Harbor Plywood in Hoquiam. Kathy Quigg, The Daily World

Left: Jolene and her mountaineer husband Willi in the Cascades around 1954 with their first two children: Devi in the papoose backpack and Regon. Ira Spring

Middle: Jolene analyzed campaign financing in her landmark 1974 book, Who Gave? Who Got? How Much? Recognizing her tireless push for government transparency, Unsoeld in 2008 received the James Madison Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government. Washington State Library

Right: Jolene poses with her favorite David Horsey cartoon, which celebrates her fearlessness. An early political inspiration was Wayne Morse, Oregon’s maverick U.S. Senator. John Hughes

Who is she?

A self-described citizen meddler, Jolene Unsoeld led the 1972 campaign for a ballot measure that established a Public Disclosure Commission. The new law was a landmark event in the push for campaign-finance transparency and regulation of lobbyists.

Unsoeld won election to the State Legislature in 1984 and four years later became only the third woman ever elected to Congress from Washington State.

She made enemies and allies during the spotted owl controversy. Unsoeld insisted that raw log exports, overcutting and automation were the major factors in the loss of forest jobs. She also advocated for retraining unemployed timber workers and incentives for new industry.

In the 1990s, Unsoeld helped ban the massive Japanese driftnets that were endangering U.S. salmon and steelhead runs in the North Pacific. “The numbers were staggering,” Jolene says. “They were stealing $21 million worth of our salmon every year. And the international economic implications were even more dramatic.” Branded an “environmental extremist,” Unsoeld never flinched.