The most unusual politician — Craswell was likable


The first column I ever wrote about Ellen Craswell was in August 1976 when she was running for the Legislature in the 23rd district and handing out sponges with her campaign slogan on them, “Let’s Clean House.”

I was appalled, not at her, but the hick sponges. She won. And she kept on winning and handing out sponges through two terms in the House and three in the Senate.

The last column was in April 2000 when she endorsed Republican Harold Hochstatter for governor, the office she sought in vain four years before. He didn’t make it either.

Ellen lost her third battle with cancer April 4, the day of the Kitsap County Republican convention, an event that was once dominated by her and her husband, Bruce, as leaders of the pro-life Religious Right movement in Washington state. She was 75.

Ellen Craswell was a rarity among politicians and politicians’ wives, especially. She was immensely likable. She had no enemies to bad mouth her for some slight of the past. Oh, the other women legislators in the House were irked when she refused to use the taxpayer-provided services of the beautician in the women’s lounge when she needed her hair cut. She went into town for haircuts and paid for them.

She was of such unimpeachable character she was almost a freak. I got angry mail from readers when I reported that she became flustered at a meeting, saying that was a cheap shot. Their Joan of Arc had no feet of clay. She was incapable of becoming flustered.

She co-sponsored the tax spending lid Initiative 62 and she announced for the Senate against Gordon Walgren before his problems with a vengeful U.S. attorney and never once mentioned those problems during the campaign.

Her fellow senators called her Madame Clean and Senator No because she said she would never vote for a tax increase. Even when the Republicans had a majority and needed her vote for a tax increase they thought was necessary, she refused.

Once she came to me and confided that no one had noticed it but early in her career, she did vote an increase in the gasoline tax which she regarded as a user tax. Once. Never again. When Sen. Henry Jackson died in 1983 and former Republican Gov. Dan Evans was appointed to replace him, the Religious Righters in the GOP, then riding high, asked Ellen to run against the liberal Evans in his bid for election that fall. Not only did she refuse, she said she’d probably vote for him.

The Senate elected her as its first woman president pro temp. And although she was co-leader with her husband of the pro-lifers, she never picketed an abortion clinic and she never attempted to repeal the state abortion law.

She lost her seat in the Senate in 1992 to Betty Sheldon for the same reason I told Bruce she couldn’t get elected governor when he told me she was planning to run. You just aren’t supposed to be seen carrying a Bible unless you’re wearing a turned around collar.

A farewell reception for her in 1993 drew more than 300 people, including Democrats who paid $25 to be there. I was surprised to see Bob Fisher there, lobbyist for the Washington Education Assn. which spent much time and money trying to defeat her for 16 years on account of her no tax increase attitude. Ellen, he explained, “is a personal friend.”

They poured it on for her — “Gracious, strong without being tough.” “Decent, honest and dependable.” “Always served people.” “Gave grace and dignity to the Senate.”

The honoree’s acceptable speech was short and sweet and pure Ellen Craswell.

“Thanks for allowing me those 16 years,” she said.

Thank YOU, Ellen.

Adele Ferguson appears Wednesdays in the CK Reporter. She can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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