30-year legislator Dick King dies at 83

He crafted the collective bargaining law and created a path to tenure for community college professors.

Dick King in 1967. (Washington State Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

Dick King in 1967. (Washington State Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

PORT ANGELES — Dick King, a former Everett Community College instructor who championed worker rights, environmental protection and public safety in a 30-year legislative career, has died.

King, known for his honesty and wry sense of humor, crafted the state’s collective bargaining law and created a path to tenure for community college professors. He passed away Jan. 15 in Port Angeles. He was 83.

He was an EvCC speech teacher and a Democratic Party activist when he won election to the state House in 1964 in the 38th Legislative District. He served 15 terms before making an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1996.

“He was one of the biggest spokespersons for working people we’ve ever had,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a former president of the Everett Education Association and secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council.

Sells said he managed several of King’s campaigns and found him to be “very clear about what he supported and what he would do” in office.

And as a teacher of speech, King “knew how to communicate in a clear and convincing manner and to be respectful about it,” Sells said.

King’s passion extended beyond championing rights of teachers, firefighters and other public employees.

He loved fishing and it fueled his legislative work to protect fisheries and improve salmon recovery efforts, family members said. And he was deeply proud of bills passed to ensure emergency service providers received adequate funding, they said.

King was born in Ritzville on Aug. 30, 1934. He grew up and attended public schools in Port Angeles. While at Port Angeles High, he set a school record for the high jump that stayed on the books for a decade, according to his family.

After graduating in 1952, he went to the University of Washington where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in the field of communication.

In high school, King met Mary Evelyn Butler at a debate tournament. They were married in 1955 and raised four children.

King taught at Everett Community College from 1960-90 and would take unpaid leave during legislative sessions. He also coached the college’s debate team.

Seeds of a political career were sown in 1960 when he attended the Democratic National Convention at which John F. Kennedy became the party’s presidential nominee.

King’s children said his career in public service was inspired in part by Kennedy and later his brother, Robert. When Robert Kennedy ran for president in 1968, King served as chairman of the campaign operation in Snohomish County, his family said.

In 1962, King was chosen president of the state chapter of Young Democrats and two years later he won his first legislative election.

He co-sponsored the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Act in 1967, a law which poured the foundation for giving public employees the right to organize and negotiate on wages, benefits and working conditions. In 1969, he authored a bill that made it possible for community college teachers to earn tenure.

In his legislative career, King served stints as chairman of the House Labor Committee and the House Fish and Wildlife Committee. He also spent four years as leader of the Democratic caucus.

News stories at the time described him as a political hybrid combining a knack for the wheeling-and-dealing style of old-school politics with a commitment to the ethics and candor of newer style politics.

He was an advocate of public-disclosure measures.

“I started my career working for him. He was a wise mentor and a kind and generous friend,” Jeff Parsons, legislative policy director for Puget Sound Partnership, wrote on Facebook. “I was inspired by his steadfast advocacy for working men and women of our state, for public education, and for good government in the public interest.”

King is survived by his wife, Mary; four children, Doug, Diana, Shawn and Sherry; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 31 at the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Edmonds. It is located at 8109 224 St. SW.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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