By Jerry Cornfield Herald Columnist
Val Stevens has left the Capitol.
She’s started bringing personal effects from her state Senate office to her Arlington home as she serves the final months of a 20-year legislative career.
It’s been an interesting run, to say the least.
Stevens won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1992, the Year of the Woman. Four years later the conservative Republican was elected to the Senate where she’s spent four terms.
There could have been a fifth if she wanted, as her 39th Legislative District is a Republican haven.
But she chose to retire and I, for one, will miss her presence around Olympia.
Stevens offered two things on which you could bank on — unshakable principles and really good quotes.
She is a no-nonsense fiscal, social and political conservative who fashioned a legislative agenda mostly on issues orbiting God, gays, and children.
Stevens didn’t aspire to, nor become, one of Olympia’s power brokers. Most days she didn’t set out to find compromise and build consensus on a bill she introduced. Rather, she staked out turf based on her beliefs then waited for a majority of other lawmakers to join her — which frankly didn’t happen a lot in the last few years with Democrats in charge.
When it happened, it changed the state. At least for awhile.
Consider 1998. That year she helped push through the Defense of Marriage Act, the state law defining marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman. She later became a defendant in a lawsuit which resulted in the state Supreme Court upholding the law.
Ironically, DOMA was erased from the books this year when the Legislature passed and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Stevens, who spent her entire career opposing incursions of the “homosexual agenda” into the everyday lives of Washington, didn’t speak when the Senate debated the bill. Afterward she provided the vinegar-sharp comment one would expect from her.
“What is next for our state?” she said. “Will there be another bill next year, and another the year after that, until homosexuality is taught as normal and only an ‘alternative’ in Washington’s public schools, or some other societal tradition is discarded in the name of ‘equality?’ “
On some matters, her unbending attitude cost her constituents dearly.
For example, her opposition to a gas tax increase in 2005 didn’t prevent lawmakers from approving it to pay for a multi-billion dollar batch of projects. But it did result in that package not including U.S. 2 for needed improvements.
Since then, and in spite of her, the state has funneled several million dollars into various safety improvements on the highway.
If there is an issue about which the views of Stevens evolved, it would be children. Many would say Stevens arrived in the Legislature convinced the state messed up families by too often separating parents from their children at the first report of trouble. She sought less state interference.
Over time, through her tenure on the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, as her appreciation grew of the complex relationship between the state and families, she joined with Democrats in working to reshape Washington’s child welfare system.
She also pressed for new and tougher laws to punish those who commit crimes against children; this year she co-authored two new laws aimed at curbing human trafficking.
Stevens had her following, for sure. She also had detractors who surfaced whenever she put forth some pretty wide-eyed ideas which fit her political beliefs perfectly.
She wanted English declared the official language for the state, driver’s licenses denied to non-citizens and public funding ended for abortions.
Like clockwork, she pushed those views year in and year out.
That won’t happen without her in 2013, and Olympia won’t be quite the same.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.