The Reform Program: A Group Interview

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The video presentation below offers an overview of Sawyer's ideas and how they transformed the work of the Legislature. Some of Sawyer's able team from the 1970s came together on September 2, 2004 for a group interview to remember and discuss their program and accomplishments. Speaker Leonard Sawyer is joined by former Chief Clerk Dean Foster, and former assistants Dawne Freisen and Vito Chiechi.

The interviewer is Anne Kilgannon and filmed by Lori Baderdeen in a conference room at the State Library. We would like to thank Terri Nelson from the State Archives for her technical assistance and Matthew Edwards for his help with Website production.

To view the video clips you will need Microsoft Media Player, which is available free of charge.

» The Reform Program Transcript

1) Anne Kilgannon introduces the participants in the panel discussion and outlines the main goals of Speaker Sawyer's reform program.

2) Speaker Sawyer emphasizes the critical role of independent sources of information for making legislative decisions. He recalls the weak position of the legislative branch and his efforts to address that situation. Dean Foster and Vito Chiechi also describe the situation as they found it in 1972.

3) Speaker Sawyer describes his new program of hiring nonpartisan staff, the creation of the Offi ce of Program Research. This development was central to his concept of information-based legislation and his radical view that both the majority and minority parties should have access to the same research.

4) Speaker Sawyer recalls the early uses of computers in legislative work. Although primitive by today's standards, the fi rst computers proved their worth in such complex operations as redistricting that their potential for other legislative problem-solving was recognized by Sawyer's team.

5) Dawne Freisen emphasizes the magnitude of the changes being pushed by Speaker Sawyer and the resistance he faced. Speaker Sawyer recalls valuable advice given him early in his career by Senator Warren Magnuson and how that shaped his ideas.

6) Speaker Sawyer and other panel members recall the weaknesses of the traditional committee structure and processes and the diffi culties of working effectively under that mode. Dawne Freisen outlines her role in coordinating the work of the House with the Senate and working with committee chairpersons and leadership to move bills through both houses.

7) Speaker Sawyer describes his new expectations for committee chairpersons and the central role of the Rules Committee.

8) The panel discusses the new openness and whether it led to better legislation being passed.

9) The panel continues the discussion about the role of committee chairpersons and how periodic dinner meetings with the Speaker helped forge a stronger caucus.

10) Speaker Sawyer explains the ?continuing session? concept, its potential to enhance legislative powers and the problems it posed for legislators. Dean Foster makes the point that although this innovation was not adopted, it has had a lasting impact on how legislators think about their commitment and time.

11) The panel discusses the evolution of committee weekends and the impact of these changes on the cost of running the Legislature.

12) The panel discusses the relationships between the party caucuses in the House and between the House and Senate.

13) Dean Foster explains the reaction of the executive branch to the changes being made in the legislative branch. He maintains that the executive was challenged by the reform movement and tried to erode support for it.

14) Speaker Sawyer describes his relationship with Senator August Mardesich, Senate majority leader, and how they were attacked for exercising too much power as they pushed through the new program.

15) Dawne Freisen raises the point that one of Speaker Sawyer's strengths was recruiting top-notch staff. Dean Foster remembers the role of Dean Morgan, one of the most important people brought in by Sawyer. Morgan passed away in 2001.

16) Dean Morgan had worked with the Boeing Company and introduced another key staff person to the group, Vito Chiechi, who was also from Boeing. Vito tells the story of his recruitment and hiring, despite the fact that he was a Republican.

17) Speaker Sawyer discusses the genesis of LEAP program and the work of Dean Morgan in that development. He describes how the use of computers revolutionized the handling of information.

18) Speaker Sawyer describes an early demonstration of LEAP to business groups in the state.

19) Speaker Sawyer relates how he and his staff presented LEAP to various states and to Senator Magnuson in Washington, DC. They discovered that Washington State, with its early use of computers, was far in advance of Congress in how it dealt with budget issues and forecasting.

20) Dean Foster notes that the use of computers allowed the Legislature to challenge the Governor's budget numbers and to understand the details hidden in the data as never before. This allowed for greater accountability and oversight by the Legislature.

21) Speaker Sawyer expands on Dean Foster's comments and they discuss working with state agencies on their expenditures and requests for funding.

22) Anne Kilgannon recalls the role of another staff member who could not be present for this interview, Don Clawson. The panel explains his role as Communication Director and his contributions to their reform program.

23) Speaker Sawyer recalls the contributions of Representative Robert Charette, majority fl oor leader, Rick Bender, Marc Gaspard and Helen Sommers. He relates the story of how he chose Dean Foster as chief clerk. Dean explains how he responded to the invitation.

24) The panel discusses the issue of power, the power of the Speaker and the perils of a too-powerful staff and how to maintain a balance between staff and legislators.

25) The panel sums up the legacy of the reforms brought in by Speaker Sawyer.

26) Dean Foster tells one more story about Leonard Sawyer to illustrate his masterful grasp of legislative processes and relationships. Speaker Sawyer closes with an acknowledgment of all he learned from Senator Warren Magnuson about the political process and people.