Sen. Jeannette Hayner leaves legacy of strong leadership

Hayner, who died last week at the age of 91, helped shape Washington state with her vision and her leadership style.

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Walla Walla's Jeannette Hayner was a strong, pragmatic and respected leader who helped shape Washington state through the 1980s and the early 1990s. Her vision and leadership style has been missed in the state Legislature since she retired from the Senate in 1993.

Hayner, who died last week at the age of 91, left a legacy of leadership admired by her fellow legislators and governors.

Yes, she was the first woman to serve as the Senate majority leader, but Hayner was unimpressed with breaking gender barriers. She saw herself only as a legislator and leader.

She was great at both.

But when she wasn't in Olympia, Hayner was a kind and caring member of this community.

Hayner became involved in politics at the local level, serving on the Walla Walla School board from 1956 until 1963. She was elected to the state House in 1972 where she served for four years. She was elected to the Senate in 1976 and just three years later she became the Senate Republican leader. When the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981 with a slim one-seat majority, Hayner became the majority leader.

Hayner's leadership skills were tested over and over again as she had to hold together her Republican caucus while negotiating with the Democrat-controlled House during some difficult economic times. At one time the revenue shortfall was $900 million in the midst of a deep recession.

Former House Speaker Joe King, D-Vancouver, said Hayner was able to work with Democrats who controlled the House to find a solution. Her willingness to find common-ground solutions was praised at the time by Democrats and Republicans. Hayner was highly respected for her political acumen, her pragmatic approach and the way in which she treated her colleagues with respect.

"She's my favorite conservative," King said in 1992 when Hayner announced she would not seek re-election. "I really appreciated Jeannette. We were able to solve a lot of our state's problems despite some strong philosophical disagreements. Without Jeannette, it is unlikely we would have solved our $900 million budget problem."

Hayner was also well respected among Republicans. Former Gov. John Spellman, when hearing of Hayner's death, released this statement: "Jeannette Hayner was an extraordinary leader, brilliant, full of integrity, cool headed, firm in her beliefs, but willing to compromise for the common good. She was a woman of grace and a true friend."

She was indeed a woman of grace.

As Washington state faces another fiscal crisis in the midst of a deep and prolonged recession, today's leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- can learn from Hayner's strong and pragmatic leadership style. Hayner did what was necessary for the betterment of the entire state.

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