Former legislator Jean Berkey dies at 74

EVERETT — Jean Berkey, a longtime Everett resident whose political activism began with work on the presidential campaign of Henry “Scoop” Jackson and included terms in the state House and Senate, has died.

She was 74. She died Aug. 21 at her home on Fidalgo Island near Deception Pass after a brief illness.

Although Berkey served for 10 years in the Legislature, her primary election campaign in 2010 ended in both a political loss and controversy over the involvement of a Seattle consulting firm, Moxie Media, which worked for her defeat.

A coalition of labor unions, trial lawyers and progressive groups targeted Berkey because they found her voting record too conservative. They backed a more liberal candidate, Nick Harper.

The coalition hired Moxie Media to run a roughly $280,000 campaign. It featured television and radio ads, mailings and phone calls supporting Harper and opposing Berkey.

In addition, a Moxie Media employee created two political action committees for the purpose of building up support for a third candidate, Rod Rieger, who described himself as being with the Conservative Party.

In 2011, then-Attorney General Rob McKenna announced a settlement involving a $250,000 fine against Moxie Media — one of the largest ever levied in an election-related case. Moxie Media was accused of concealing the source of money behind the mailers and phone calls attacking Berkey in the final days of the election.

Two top employees of the firm also were required to pay $40,000 in legal fees. The firm can avoid paying $140,000 of the fine if it breaks no campaign disclosure laws through 2015.

On Monday, Larry Vognild, 81, of Everett said that both he and Berkey started their work in Democratic causes about the same time in the 1960s.

“The kinds of things we did were the menial campaign work that needs to be done…if you’re going to help someone get elected — doorbelling and stuffing envelopes,” he said.

Both worked on the presidential campaign of Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1972.

Vognild went on to serve in the state Senate for 16 years, ending in 1995. Berkey was appointed to the state House in 2000 and appointed to the state Senate covering Everett and Marysville in 2004.

Although he left the Legislature eight years before Berkey took office, he said she asked for his advice and mentorship.

“Jean, in my opinion, was a very good senator,” Vognild said. “She was what I call a moderate Democrat. She fit this area real well.”

He praised her as being a “people person” who would carefully listen to opinions of others.

Vognild said her last campaign was marred by “dirty tricks used to defeat her, something I had never seen before and I hope I never see again.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said that Berkey served the community in many ways. Her gracious manner and openness were hallmarks of her public service, he said.

“This is a great loss for our community,” he said. “Jean Berkey was part of the fabric of Everett and truly will be missed.”

State Rep. Mike Sells said he had known Berkey for years. “Jean was an old friend, as well as a stalwart in area politics,” he said.

Her political work also included managing the campaign of former Congressman Al Swift in 1986.

Berkey was born on Aug. 22, 1938 in Loma Linda, Calif., and moved to Everett as a child. She graduated from Everett High School in 1957 and went on to receive a degree from Everett Community College.

She worked at General Telephone in the early 1960s where she was an accounting clerk.

Berkey joined the Snohomish County Labor Council in the late 1960s as a delegate representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and served for 15 years, her husband, Donald Berkey, said.

She and Donald Berkey married in 1969.

In 1974, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington after receiving an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers scholarship. She was the first women to receive the scholarship, her husband said.

Jean Berkey served on the Everett Civil Service Commission, was a board member of United Way of Snohomish County in the late 1980s, served on the board of the Everett Medic One Foundation and was an Everett Community College trustee.

She and Carl Gipson Sr. served together on the Everett Senior Center Foundation Board, from its inception in 1998 through last year. Both were made emeritus members earlier this year.

Gipson said he began serving on the foundation board at Berkey’s request. “I consider her one of my best friends,” he said.

“Her work and dedication to the foundation was, without a doubt, extraordinary,” Gipson said.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept 14 in the Weyerhaeuser Room at Everett Station, 3201 Smith Ave.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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