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Former Gov. Mike Lowry, Also A Congressman, Dies At 78

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, file photo, former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry is introduced from the gallery in the House chamber before Gov. Chris Gregoire's final State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol.

Former Washington state Gov. Mike Lowry, who also served in Congress for a decade, has died. A news release from his family says Lowry, a Democrat elected governor in 1992, died Monday following complications from a stroke. He was 78.

In a statement, Gov. Jay Inslee said Lowry "served with compassion and humility."

He was born in the eastern Washington town of St. John, where his family homesteaded in 1882, before statehood. After serving in Congress until 1989, he twice lost races for the U.S. Senate.

He also served as a legislative aide, King County Council member and a staffer for nonprofit health care organization.

He decided to run for governor when the retirement of then-Gov. Booth Gardner opened up the post. columnist Joel Connelly has covered politics in Washington state for decades. He remembers Lowry as “a very physical, very emotional, very outspoken, very courageous politician.” He spoke to KNKX about Lowry’s life and legacy:

Interview Highlights

On Lowry’s Personality: “He could be extremely volatile at times. For instance, President Reagan sent American bombers into the Gulf of Sidra, and did an attack on Col. [Moammar] Gadhafi’s compound in Libya, and Lowry did not like this. Lowry denounced it. He went live on KOMO-TV from Washington, D.C., and delivered an emotional denunciation of the president’s actions that I think temporarily disabled the switchboard with people reacting to it.”

On Lowry As Governor: “He began by talking about raising taxes – and talking about the third rail of state politics, an income tax – before he was even inaugurated. He was confronted with a Republican Legislature and with a top-heavy Republican House majority after the 1994 election. He was accused of harassment by a former deputy press aide … He later settled this. He did not seek a second term. Interestingly, however, he did not leave politics but went back to the man who beat him for the U.S. Senate, Dan Evans, and the two of them together formed the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. Whenever I walk the beach at Double Bluff out on Whidbey Island, I turn to the herons in the water and the eagles up on top of the bluff and say they owe their habitat to two men once ran against each other in a ferocious election for the Senate.”

 On Lowry’s Style: “Mike Lowry was an eastern Washington farm boy turned into an urban politician. He was an extraordinarily effective Congressman because he had a very physical style to him. He was able to literally rub stomachs with people in the hallway outside the House Budget Committee … The corridor was very narrow and it kind of facilitated two people standing very close to each other, pointing fingers and doing trade-offs.”

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.