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House of Representatives, 1963

Leadership and Members of the Three Caucuses

Representative Elmer Huntley

Representative Slade Gorton

1960s Redistricting Documents

Representative Dan Evans

View Republican campaign pamphlets based on the 1962 Democratic Platform

The Election of the Speaker: Battle Lines are Drawn

The House Democratic Caucus Reaction: Caucus Report

Newspaper Resources
"The Formation of a Coalition in the 1963 Washington House of Representatives"

The Formation of the Coalition


Governor Rosellini called it “an unholy alliance” when dissident conservative Democrats brokered a deal with House Republican members to create a legislative coalition before the session of 1963.

After the election of 1962, House Democrats held on to a slim majority with fifty-one seats to the Republicans’ forty-eight. But six or seven Democrats were so unhappy with what they saw as too-liberal positions taken by their party that they approached the Republicans to form a united front against this trend.

Members of this group were incensed about certain provisions in the Democratic platform passed at their state convention concerning loyalty oaths, support for public power and other provisions. They walked out of the convention vowing not to support John O’Brien for Speaker again. Several of these members still smarted from the battle over public power in the previous session and felt that O’Brien had run rough-shod over their views and district needs.

The leaders of the House Republicans were frustrated with their continued minority status. They were also concerned with the prospect of living in a prolonged political wilderness that they foresaw with the pending legislative redistricting controlled by a Democratic House, Senate and Governor. House Republicans, after some deliberation, were convinced a coalition would be worth the risk.

Explore the drama of this unusual and significant event which led to realignments in both parties and the subsequent rise of Dan Evans to three terms as Governor of Washington.



1. 1961 Public/Private Power Debate

Recollections from Elmer Huntley:

Excerpt from Elmer Huntley: An Oral History, pages 35-37. Elmer Huntley describes the coalition and the vote that ultimately led to Representative William Day being elected Speaker of the House.

Ms. Boswell: You were telling me earlier about the coalition of Democrats who kind if bolted to the Republican Party for awhile. Tell me a little more about that. We didn’t talk about that on tape before.

Mr. Huntley: It started because, I think it was six Democrats, and most of them were from Spokane. They leaned toward private power, like Puget Power, Pacific Power and Light, and things like that. They got their ears rapped down in the 1961 session when the Speaker, who was of their own party, went against them and crossed them up. And that’s when that coalition was really born, was right there in 1961.

We came to the Legislature in January 1963, and these, I’m sure it was six, and our leadership, the Republican leaders, had got together and decided they were going to form a coalition. They were going to elect a new Speaker. I don’t know how many meetings they had before they got this altogether, but I was sitting with Dr. A.O. Adams, who was an orthopedic surgeon and the fellow that the coalition wanted to run was a chiropractor from Spokane. Can you imagine in those days a chiropractor to a orthopedic surgeon? He just kind of went up in the air.

Our strategy was that we, the Republicans, were going to nominate Dan Evans for it, the Speaker. The Democrats, of course, were going to re-nominate John O’Brien who had been the Speaker before. These six Democrats that broke ranks were going to nominate Bill Day, the chiropractor.

Well, I think we went through three different role-call votes and each time they ended up the same. It was tied between O’Brien and Dan Evans. I believe it was on the third roll-call vote. Dr. Adams, of course, is the first one on the roll call and they called his name and he voted for Bill Day who was the chiropractor. The public said, “That can never happen. You’re not going to have a medical doctor voting for a chiropractor.” But he did and that’s how the coalition was started.

Ms. Boswell: So the coalition was born.

Mr. Huntley: Dr. Adams, of course, was the lead-off voter for the coalition when he voted for Day. And John O’Brien was sitting about three rows over from us and he couldn’t come straight through, the way the desks were positioned so he jumped over one and he came to where Dr. Adams and I were sitting and he put his hand on Doc’s shoulder and he said, “Let’s talk this over a little bit. Let’s talk this over.” Doc says, “John, we’ve been talking this over for the last few years.” The vote then, it was for Bill Day.

Ms. Boswell: And so Bill Day actually won out over both of them? So Bill Day won instead of Evans, then?

Mr. Huntley: Oh yes. Evans didn’t want it.

Ms. Boswell: Oh, he didn’t? Why not?

Mr. Huntley: He didn’t want it at all. He was just nominated to offset John O’Brien. And then, of course, Bill Day came in and picked up the six Democratic votes.


2. Redistricting Looms

Recollections from Slade Gorton:

Excerpt from an interview conducted with Slade Gorton for Joel Pritchard: An Oral History, pages 150-151. Slade Gorton identified the threat of redistricting under total Democratic control as the Republican motivation for joining in the coalition.

Slade Gorton: In 1961, the great battle of the state House of Representatives was a public power versus private power fight. It was over a bill stating that a public utility district could not take over a privately owned utility without an actual vote of the people. Most Republicans were for it together with private-power Democrats, especially from around Spokane, were for it. A handful of Republicans and the Democratic leadership and the governor were against it. Literally, it was debated on the floor for something like three days with a slight majority in favor until the Speaker, John O’Brien, more or less outside the rules, terminated the debate.

That created a tremendous amount of bitterness on the part of the Democrats who were on our side of the issue. I think for Joel, and for me, and for Dan, and for others like us, the battle was more important than the issue. We were sorry that we lost it; we would have like to have won it. But we had so much fun engaged in the battle that it brought us closer together, and didn’t create any lasting resentment the way it did among the Democrats who felt they had been over-ridden.

So, when in 1962 Republicans went all the way up to forty-eight seats out of ninety-nine, those Democrats were ready to revolt against both the governor and the Speaker. It was perhaps the most exciting time in the political lives of any of the three of us, Joel, Dan and me, putting together the coalition. Dan, of course, was the Republican leader, the nominal candidate for Speaker. Joel and I were his closest friends. Both Joel and I were close to a Democratic state representative form North Seattle named Bob Perry—perhaps I was even closer to him than Joel—and he was the ultimate conspirator.

Anne Kilgannon: Was this the famous story of the dark cabin in the woods?

Slade Gorton: That was the end of it, but it started the day, literally the day, after the 1962 election. We got authority from our caucus to negotiate with dissident Democrats and we were smart enough never to reach agreement with them, because as long as we had no agreement with them, it couldn’t leak. And, as a consequence, on the Sunday—the day before the members of the Legislature are sworn in—we were given final authority to see if we could reach agreement with those Democrats. We met in the cabin at the end of the long dark road—a handful of Republicans, including Joel and me, met with Day and Perry and the rest of the conspirators.

Anne Kilgannon: Joel was present, then?

Slade Gorton: I would assume he was because he was in everything else. But my memory after forty years is not good enough to be very precise.

In any event, we reached an agreement pursuant to which we would nominate and vote for Evans for Speaker, and regular Democrats would vote for O’Brien. The dissidents would vote for Day. And then, if on the second ballot they gained strength—because we never believed that they had as many votes as they claimed they had—we would, on the third ballot, all vote for Day. In fact, it happened that way. I believe they got six votes on the first ballot and seven on the second and then everything took place on the third.

But even in the caucus, we didn’t allow a vote to take place on whether or not we would do it until about 11:45, just before we would go out at noon and be sworn in. My principal memory about Joel, at that particular time, related not to the substance but to the kind of stress it put us under. We didn’t even know when we went out of our caucus where our newly assigned seats were. Dan had placed me down near the front to be an assistant floor leader and Joel was somewhere not too far away. But one young man who was senior to both Joel and me, named Richard Morphis from Spokane—whose nickname was Rigor Mortis and who was really just a silly character—found out his seat was way in the back. He was bitterly resentful, so in the midst of this huge stress, when we were being sworn in and about to vote for Speaker and this great coup, he came running down forward complaining to Dan Evans about where his seat was! This was the most important thing in the world to him. Joel says, “Shut up Dick and get back to your seat or I’ll deck you!” I do remember that. And Morphis, who was twice as big as Pritchard, immediately ran back to his seat. He sat down and kept quiet until we were done.

Anne Kilgannon: Well, I don’t know if that was characteristic or not!

Slade Gorton: No, it wasn’t characteristic. I think that is the reason I remember it almost forty years later.

But in many respects, that was a dramatically successful political coup. The session was successful because one of our principal reasons for joining the coalition was that we were ordered to reapportion and redistrict state legislative seats and this was the way that we could at least have a real influence over the process. I was chairman of the Committee on Elections and it ended up in a deadlock and nothing happened. Then in the 1965 session, after the 1964 election, we could do nothing but redistrict under the court order until it had been completed. I was sort of our captain and Joel was our lieutenant.


3. The 1962 State Democratic Convention

Recollections from Dan Evans:

Dan Evans recalls how the Republican Party used the Democratic platform as a campaign piece.

“The rancor continued, however, and in the 1962 Democratic state convention several delegates who served in the house of representatives walked out of the convention. They believed several of the party platform planks were too liberal for their taste. In the election campaign that year Republicans printed almost half-a-million copies of the Democratic state platform with certain paragraphs highlighted. It proved a brilliant campaign strategy, and we almost gained control of the house of representatives in that election. Forty-eight united Republicans faced a deeply divided Democratic majority of fifty-one.

Shortly after the election, one of the dissident Democrats contacted Representative Slade Gorton, inquiring if we were interested in forming a coalition. After debating among ourselves whether it was in the Republican party’s best interest, we finally decided a coalition was worth investigating.

I will never forget the final negotiating session, conducted in a clandestine gathering the night before the legislative session opened. The four leaders of the Republican caucus met in a parking lot in downtown Olympia and went by car far into the outskirts of town, down a dark, narrow road into the forest, to meet the Democratic defectors. The only light in the cabin came from a flickering fireplace. We were ushered into the room to meet with Representative Bill Day, a 300-pound chiropractor from Spokane, and six of his colleagues who were unwilling to follow Speaker O’Brien. Another important participant was Si Holcomb, chief clerk of the house, who, during the previous legislative session, had a falling out with Speaker O’Brien. Holcomb was critical to our plans since he would preside over the election the next day. We agreed that night to form a coalition and elect Day as speaker. Believing Day would not be swayed by members of his own party, our group left it up to me to decide on which ballot the Republicans would shift their support to him for Speaker.

The Republicans gathered in caucus just before the start of the legislative session the following morning. We told them what had transpired. We left the caucus room through a phalanx of reporters who were wondering what was going on. No one spoke a word to the press gathered outside the door (oh, if we could only do that today!). We took our seats in the house chamber to await the vote for speaker. On the first ballot I received the forty-eight Republican votes, John O’Brien had forty-five Democratic votes, and Bill Day had six. No majority meant no speaker. On the second ballot Day gained one vote at the expense of O’Brien.

Just before the third ballot started, I leaned over across my desk to Representative Alfred Adams, a distinguished orthopedic surgeon from Spokane, and said, ‘Doc, it’s time to shift your vote.’ His was the first name on the roll call, and as he answered ‘Day,’ heads whirled around from the press table. As the names were called and each Republican voted for Day, it became apparent that he was going to be elected speaker. It did not occur to O’Brien and his supporters until halfway through the roll call that they were going to lose. The election of Representative Day set off a week of bitter wrangling by the distraught Democratic minority and initiated a tumultuous legislative session. The Republican caucus held together firmly, as did the Democrats who helped form the coalition. As we adjourned, the jubilant Republican minority was convinced we would return two years later with a clear majority of our own.”

Dan Evans, “Some Reflections on My 30 Years in Washington State Politics and Government” in Washington Comes of Age: The State in the National Experience, edited by David H. Stratton, Washington State University Press, Pullman, Washington, 1992



View a dramatic historic photo essay and read the House Journal excerpts concerning the Speaker election of 1963.



In an unusual move to match this unusual situation, the “regular Democrats” issued a caucus report at the end of session which reflected their dismay and sense of betrayal at the actions of their dissident party members. Read excerpts from this document to gauge the Democratic response to the coalition session.