Rosemary McAuliffe sits at her home in Bothell with the chairs and a desk from her days in the state House ofRepresentatives, where she has served since 1993. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Rosemary McAuliffe sits at her home in Bothell with the chairs and a desk from her days in the state House ofRepresentatives, where she has served since 1993. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

McAuliffe steps down from state Senate, eyes council run

BOTHELL — In less than a week, Rosemary McAuliffe, of Bothell, will leave the state Senate and, for the first time in 40 years, be out of elected office.

McAuliffe, whose political career began on the Northshore School Board in 1977, chose retirement rather than campaign for a seventh term in the Legislature.

However, the Democratic lawmaker may not be out of the political arena long.

When the Bothell City Council honored her Dec. 6, she revealed her desire to run for a council seat in 2017. She’s aiming to succeed Councilman Del Spivey, who said he will not seek re-election to his Position 3 seat.

“It is a great opportunity for me to come home and to be a community activist,” McAuliffe, 76, in a recent interview.

“You get inside.”

Rosemary and Jim McAuliffe married in 1962 and settled in Bothell. They’ve raised five sons and a daughter and lived in the same home since 1965.

A registered nurse, McAuliffe became involved in public education because of her children. Two of her sons had dyslexia and she said school officials told her they didn’t want to learn. She knew otherwise. She pushed back while getting her sons assistance to master their challenge.

The experience inspired McAuliffe, a Seattle University graduate, to pursue a career in public service.

“I knew I could help my kids. I knew what to do for my kids,” McAuliffe said. “But I knew many parents in the district did not. Instead of beating on the door from outside, you get inside.”

She served 14 years on the school board, leaving in 1991 after her youngest child graduated. She planned to return to nursing until representatives of the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate recruited her to run for state office.

In 1992, she won an open Senate seat in a newly redrawn 1st Legislative District. She was re-elected five times.

“I thought I was going to serve only four years,” she recalled. “You always have more work to do and if you have a passion for it, your work is never done.”

Education was and is her passion. Her fingerprints are on many of the Democratic-inspired education policy bills and initiatives in the last quarter century.

As a freshman lawmaker, she supported the hallmark 1993 law that set out academic standards and gave birth to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, a test that grew to be despised and discarded a generation later. One of its flaws is high school students had to pass it in order to get a diploma.

Establishing standards “was the right thing to do,” she said. “I think my one desire would have been to not have a test be a graduation requirement.”

When Democrats held the majority, she served as chairwoman of the Senate education committee, often using her power to stymie reforms pushed by Republican colleagues.

Charter schools is an example. McAuliffe said she authored a bill in 1995 allowing their establishment by school districts. Years later, she stifled Republican-drafted proposals for creating publicly funded privately run charter schools. Voters wound up doing it themselves via an initiative.

“I learned from my experience as a school board member that you need to have the oversight of school boards for accountability,” she said.

Good listener

McAuliffe earned a reputation as a steadfast voice for public school teachers and the agenda of their statewide union, the Washington Education Association.

“I believe in teachers,” she said unapologetically.

The president of a local teacher union praised McAuliffe for respecting the opinions of those on education’s front lines.

“From my work with her as an educator and union leader, Sen. McAuliffe has always listened to the community and the education professionals in the community and allowed that to be be part of the conversation,” said Justin Fox-Bailey, of the Snohomish Education Association.

Fox-Bailey cited the “enormously complex work” of rewriting the state’s teacher evaluation law as an example.

“She didn’t pretend to have all the answers,” he said. “She listened.”

In a legislative career spanning four governors, not every achievement is tied to elementary and secondary schools.

Landing a University of Washington branch campus in Bothell is one of three accomplishments in higher education of which McAuliffe is most proud. UW Bothell, which sits alongside Cascadia College, which she also helped secure, is the fastest growing four-year public university in Washington and earning national acclaim for its graduates’ success.

“That was a battle,” she said, noting the community won because “we had the right people in the right places at the right time.”

McAuliffe also helped create the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, better known as GET, and rename the Lake Washington Institute of Technology from Lake Washington Technical College.

Not every memorable moment is linked with education.

She said she is proud to have sponsored the state’s first anti-bullying bill and voted for allowing same-sex couples to marry. And in February she cast the critical 25th vote against a bill to repeal a rule allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

“I wasn’t in the chamber. I was driving home and had reached Fort Lewis when I got a call to come back so I could vote no and stop it,” she said.

Also, she worked to steer money from the state’s capital budget into community programs, nonprofit services and economic revitalization in Bothell and neighboring communities.

In the current budget, she helped secure $1 million toward purchasing part of the former Wayne Golf Course for preservation as open space.

Eyes on Bothell

McAuliffe spent time in December boxing up items from her legislative career for the state archives. She also began thinking about what she needed to learn to be on the council.

She knows one matter pretty well. She and her husband own property on Main Street and been engaged in the downtown’s revitalization efforts since the 1980s. That will continue to be a priority, she said, adding she wants to find ways to get the college students downtown.

“We need something so they can come and enjoy the city,” she said.

Mark Lamb, a former Bothell mayor and councilman who enjoyed McAuliffe’s political support, said she would be a “great addition” to the council.

“She is very well respected in the community. She’s good at bringing people together,” he said. “She’d be working on some of the same issues she did in Olympia — economic development, open space protection and support of University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College.”

But Pat Pierce, another former councilmember, offered a contrasting view. Pierce said McAuliffe sought her help on the campaign. She said she declined and said she didn’t think the state senator should run.

“I’m not so excited about it,” she said. “I think it’s time for new people to be involved. It makes the community stronger. In some ways it represents a turning back and I think the community is ready to move on.”

McAuliffe said when she announced her plan to retire from the Legislature in April, she thought she was done. Being home, she realized she “just needed to do something more in the community.”

“I knew I would only run again if I had a passion for something,” she said. “And I do.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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