My good friend State Senator Ed Murray posted on his Face Book page the other day that it had been fifteen years ago on November 4th that he was first sworn in as a State Senator, filling out the term and taking over from the late Cal Anderson who had passed away from AIDS complications four months to the day prior to Ed being sworn in. It got me to thinking about Cal and I had been meaning to post something but never got around to it last spring! There goes my complacency again.
This past April the Legislature had gone into overtime trying to deal with a terrible budget shortfall, and although two of the sticking points of the final tax package were “mine” so to speak, because of the stalemate there was very little to do, and I was taking a leisurely walk back to the office and enjoying the spring air when I happened to stroll past the tree planted to memorialize the late Senator Cal Anderson. This was the third or fourth incarnation of this tree as vandals and bigots kept uprooting the original plantings and killing the small trees. That was because Cal was the first openly gay member of the Legislature and elected official in Washington, and a tireless supporter of non-discrimination legislation. He died of complications from AIDS in 1995 before the miracle drugs we have today were available, and before any of his civil rights measures had been enacted into law. But it was Cal who got the ball rolling, and who was my mentor when it came to Washington Legislative politics when I was a young-buck lobbyist in the early 1990s.
I remember when I first met Cal – it was at the old Seattle Pride Festival at a park/ball field just east of Broadway on Capitol Hill – a park that now bears his name. It was 1990 and I’d been in Seattle only a short time and had yet to register to vote. Someone handed me a ballot initiative and asked me to sign it. I told them I couldn’t because I wasn’t registered to vote yet. The nice person told me to “go around the corner to Cal’s tent." I asked “ who’s Cal?” and they replied he’s “our Representative.”
So around the corner I go to find a small tent with a plywood cutout of the State Capitol and a door-hole cut in it, and proceed to go inside to asked “Are you Cal?” He replied “yes, how can I help you?” I told him I needed to register to vote and he gave me the forms and asked where I was from and what I did for a living. I told him I’d just moved from Phoenix and was, believe it or not, a lobbyist. He smiled and asked who I lobbied for and I told him the Washington Credit Union League. He smiled even more and told me he sat on the Financial Institutions Committee and we became fast friends. I think he was glad to have another “family” member in the halls of the capitol, especially one who represented business interests.
Cal showed me how Olympia worked in those days and who was who, and what to pay attention to, and how the Byzantine legislative process worked. If it hadn’t been for Cal I don’t know how I would have gotten along the first few years I was there.
A few years later Cal became chairman of the House Government Operations Committee – which then had the jurisdiction over the Civil Rights bills. He scheduled what was the first hearing on legislation protecting gays from employment discrimination. While the bill had been around for at least 10 years before that, it never got a hearing because no chairman was brave enough to hold one. Cal was.
He scheduled it in the evening so more people could attend and had booked one of the larger committee rooms. I helped him set it up and we went and grabbed a sandwich and by the time we got back the room was overflowing and there were hundreds of opponents trying to get in still. After consulting with Capitol Security, Cal decided to move the hearing to the House Chambers and gallery to accommodate folks. This was unprecedented to say the least – having regular folks sitting at member desks on the floor of the House and Cal chairing the committee from the Speaker’s dais, but we really had no choice – I don’t think there has ever been a legislative hearing with that many people, before or since, and none held in the House Chambers.
It was a gut-wrenching hearing to say the least, with vitriolic opposition from so-called Christians and others and very nearly turned riotous at several points. I chose to sit at Cal’s desk on the floor of the House during the hearing. Each member has a phone on the floor that is connected to the Speaker’s rostrum and suddenly Cal’s phone lit up. I looked up and he was looking at me with the phone in his hand, and as the hour neared 11pm Cal was desperate to find someone to wrap it up. He asked if I would. I’d not thought of anything to say and I was seething with anger from the folks on the opposing side and their bigotry and hatred. I didn’t know what I would say, but I stood up and Cal turned on the mike at his desk. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but I do recall ending with a plea that all we wanted was to be treated like everyone else. One of the official photographers for the House took my picture. God I look so young! Had a little more hair back then too.
Cal gaveled the hearing closed and the gallery erupted into both boos and applause. The bill never got a vote, but it did get a hearing. It continued to get a hearing every year until 2006 when it finally passed and was signed into law, eleven years after his death. It was all because of Cal Anderson laying the ground work so many years before.
I was fortunate to stand with the Governor and my good friend and Cal's successor, Senator Murray as she signed the bill into law.
Cal’s tree is growing big – it’s not been defaced or chopped down in some years. I was at the Capitol on business last week and walked by it again – the leaves had all fallen off as fall has come to the Northwest. The climate of hate was stilled for a while, but recently is bubbling up again, coming with attacks of bigotry and hatred and small mindedness from the far right and from so-called Christians like the leadership of the Mormon Church, not to mention the Tea Party idiots. But Cal’s tree still lives, as does the hope it inspires, and will be green again next year and will remind us once again of the late Calvin B. Anderson and his dream of full civic equality for everyone, partially realized -- and hopefully in my lifetime, fully implemented.