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Initiative 207 campaign, Washington Public Employee, November 1960

Initiative 101, 1936 Voters' Pamphlet
"Police Chiefs Hit Initiative 101," The Daily Olympian, November 1, 1936
Civil Service Initiative Measures
Committee on State Government Organization: Shefelman Report

Governor Arthur Langlie, 1941-1944, 1949-1956

Governor Albert Rosellini, 1957-1946

Senator August Mardesich on Civil Service Reform

Report of Round Table on Social Legislation, 1958
"Refresher on State Civil Service Reform," League of Women Voters, November 1959
"Second State Civil Service Initiative Filed," The Daily Olympian, January 13, 1960
Initiative 207, 1960 Voters' Pamphlet
"State Legislative Confab December 3," Washington Public Employee, November 1960
"No Tampering with Civil Service," Washington Public Employee, December 1960
Hearing on Merit System Rules, December 6, 1960
Merit System Rules effective April 20, 1961

Chapter 1, Civil Service for State Employees, Laws of Washington, 1961

Norm Schut with Governor Rosellini

Complete text of the Norm Schut interview

"A History of Personnel Systems for Washington State"
"Operation Self-Help, Washington State's New Merit System Law"

Civil Service Reform, Interview with Norm Schut

The common practice, from the earliest days of the Republic and the State, was the political appointment of government employees. Supporters of the winning political party were awarded posts in the government; a change of parties in the majority position often meant a wholesale change in the personnel who served in the public sector. This approach was known as the patronage system or “the spoils system,” a name that hinted at the less-than-laudatory nature of some of the appointments.

Historically, several movements to adopt a “merit system” to challenge patronage appointments were organized, often in response to scandal. On the national level, the Civil Service Reform League formed in 1871 and drew force with the assassination of President James Garfield by a disappointed job seeker. President Cleveland signed the Pendleton bill into law in 1882, introducing a federal civil service.

In Washington State, several administrations nominally attempted civil service reform, but were either half-hearted or defeated by legislative unwillingness to give up this valuable source of political support. Initiative campaigns, beginning in 1936 with Initiative 101, also strove to reform the system but failed to win approval.

In 1951, Governor Langlie appointed a special committee led by Harold Shefelman, a University of Washington law professor, prominent attorney and civic leader, to examine, among other issues of state government organization, a civil service system for the state. This committee, sometimes called the “Little Hoover Committee” modeled after the federal committee, made substantial recommendations for a merit-based system. Bills introduced in 1953 and 1955, and again in 1957 under newly elected Governor Rosellini, drew on the committee’s work, but all failed to pass.

Senate Bill 402 in 1957 followed a typical pattern. The bill was introduced on February 20, by executive request, by Senators Greive, Gissberg, and Nordquist.

Governor Rosellini recalled:

“Again, toward the middle of 1957, I was pushing for a merit system for state employees. We had one by executive order just in Institutions and Highways, but I felt we should have an overall merit system. I remember appearing before the Washington State Legislative Council and asking the Legislature to pass a sound merit system for all state employees. That was presented to the ’59 session of the Legislature, but unfortunately it did not pass and , finally, we got a merit system in the 1960 election by the initiative of the people themselves, which I supported, of course.”

“Albert D. Rosellini,” Legislative Oral History Project, Washington State Archives, 1987

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on State Government, chaired by Senator Knoblauch. The sponsoring senators all served on that committee. The bill was amended in committee and sent to Rules on March 1. Second Reading of the bill on March 4, conducted under a Call of the House, extensively sought to amend the bill with numerous roll call votes. Debate appeared brisk but at one point devolved into personal comments. Senator Gallagher, rising on a Point of Personal Privilege, objected to remarks made by Senator Nordquist:

“I take it from the remarks of Senator Nordquist that he believes anybody who belongs to a political party and who holds an office is a ‘Pendergast stooge.’ If that is the interpretation of his remarks, I think the people in general who belong to both parties should stand up and resent them.”

Senator Nordquist apologized, but the issue of political involvement by state employees was very contentious. Senator Gallagher’s amendment to allow more participation was defeated 20-25. Although another amendment proposed by Senator Gallagher did pass, he voted against final passage of the bill, but it passed the Senate, nonetheless, at the end of the debate.

Fifteen senators, however, felt strongly enough about one provision of the bill that they entered a “Protest to Political Amendment” in the Senate Journal:

“The merit bill as requested by the Governor was very nearly the same bill prepared by the Little Hoover Committee and passed by the Republican controlled Senate in 1953 and 1955. It was a model act designed to give a measure of security to employees and relieve them from participating in political activity. The Democratic amendment to permit political activity violates this principle and weakens the bill. We strongly protest this action by the Democrats to inflict politics on an otherwise good bill.”

Signed by: Dale M. Nordquist, Marshall Neill, Ernest W. Lennart, Victor Zednick, R.C. Barlow, W.C. Raugust, B.J. Dahl, Perry B. Woodall, William Goodloe, John n. Ryder, Ted G. Peterson, John H. Happy, Eugene D. Ivy, Herbert H. Freise, and William D. Shannon. Senate Journal, 1957, p. 638

The bill was transmitted to the House and referred to the House State Government Committee, chaired by longtime member W.E. Carty, where it died in committee. As chair of the same committee, Representative Carty had squashed a previous attempt to create a civil service in 1955.

When the Session of 1959 again failed to address the issue, three groups interested in reform decided to again employ the initiative as another avenue for change. The Washington Federation of State Employees, the Washington State Employees Association—a newly organized employee group, and the League of Women Voters were all supporters of a merit system, but could not agree to work together. Subsequently, WSEA sponsored Initiative 204 and WFSE sponsored Initiative 207. LWV stayed neutral and helped both sides gather signatures, but all sides joined forces when I-204 failed to gather enough signatures. I-207 narrowly qualified for the ballot, but passed November 8, 1960 by 56.25%. Washington State had at last adopted civil service reform.

The proposed merit system was based on the earlier Shefelman Committee-inspired bills, systems adopted by other states, and significantly, input from the AFL-CIO State Labor Council. This last group helped shape some of the unusual characteristics of the initiative language that became the basis of the law.

The new system included all state employees, but several critical groups of employees were exempted: employees of the Legislature, the courts, institutions of higher education, the State Patrol, the State Printer and the Department of Highways were not included for various reasons. Members of boards and commissions, assistant attorneys general, agency directors and their private secretaries, some deputies, state military personnel, and temporary employees all stayed outside the system. Employees of the Highway Department and State Patrol were expected to make the transition, however, in a short time and various mechanisms were included for addressing other employee groups not covered by the law.

The Act established a Department of Personnel consisting of three members appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation, for staggered terms of six years. Members could not be state employees, officers of a political party, or candidates in a partisan election during their terms and must support the merit system concept. The Director of Personnel was to be appointed by the governor from a list established by competitive examination.

An unusual amount of employee involvement in policy formation was built into the system. The Act, true to its origins as a union-sponsored initiative, was oriented to the union point of view with employee protections, step pay increases, its emphasis on seniority, use of prevailing wage schedules, the structure of its grievance procedures and collective bargaining negotiations. The system paid special attention to the rules governing political participation by public employees, limiting their activities to ensure freedom from political influence and partisan pressure.

The Act became law as Chapter 1, Laws of Washington 1961. It has since been amended but remains the foundation of the state’s civil service system.


Many people worked to bring about this important reform in state government. Norm Schut, Executive Director of the Washington Federation of State Employees for twenty years, played a pivotal role in the success of the campaign for a merit-based civil service.

Schut’s extensive career in government service and for WFSE is described in an interview conducted in 1989 with George Scott for his Washington State Governors Project, also available in the State Archives. Through his position as an aide to Governor Langlie and from 1952 with WFSE, Schut gives a first-person account of state employee labor issues and the politics that shaped conditions under which public employees worked that led to the passage of Initiative 207 and civil service reform.

The following is an excerpt from that interview with Norm Schut that discusses the issue of creating a merit system for state employees during the Langlie and Rosellini administrations:

Mr. Scott: Was there more or less political patronage under Rosellini than there had been during the Langlie administration?

Mr. Schut: That’s hard to say, by comparison. I know that I can talk about the Department of Labor and Industries. When Langlie came in, the place was a mess. There was a big backlog of work. It was because the Democrats who Wallgren had appointed into positions in Labor and Industries were all made to work—or they volunteered—some insisted later that they were forced to work in the Wallgren campaign. They were so out-in-the open about it—the safety inspectors and people like that—when Wallgren lost they all took off. They didn’t even wait around. All those jobs were filled by Republicans, people who had been part of the Langlie administration the first time around. John Shaughnesy and Ron McClain—I could name an awful lot of them. Langlie was partisan, but not so much partisan-political as partisan-Langlie.

When Rosellini came into office, there wasn’t any civil service system in Labor and Industries and in Institutions. I got Langlie to put it into effect through an executive order. It did not have the effect of law; it was an executive order. From then on out, we had a personnel board for Labor and Industries made up of Boyd Wickwire from industry, Art Hare from the Service Employees Union, and Frank Musket representing the Department. They heard appeals, firings. The institutions were brought under the State Personnel Board by executive order.

One of the early things Rosellini did was to cancel those executive orders. He then started bringing people in through political patronage. One good example of that was at Western State Hospital, when one day I got a call, and a hundred and twenty people in maintenance and those types of jobs at Western State Hospital had suddenly gotten a notice. They were fired. They were fired purely to make room for Democrats. The Democrats were all cleared. The people came out to be interviewed for the jobs by the Democratic Central Committee and by the Service Employees Union in Tacoma, which was tied in with the Democratic Central Committee.

I went in to see Rosellini, and Ed Weston went with me, because all of those hundred and twenty people were members of our union. This was a labor issue with us. Dr. Shoven was the Superintendent of Institutions. The thing I used as the final club with Rosellini was that the law was quite clear; the Superintendent was the appointing authority. The courts had held that to a point that Shoven had the control over firing, and he refused to sign the order dismissing these people.

He said, “You have to fire me. I’m not going to sign this.”

For a while even business managers signed the dismissals. That wasn’t a legitimate dismissal because they had no authority to hire or fire. Mainly it was a labor issue. By the time I got out of Rosellini’s office that afternoon with Ed Weston, he had taken the steps in our presence to cancel those terminations. Those people were not fired, and the ones that were being sent in were not hired. So Rosellini was very partisan in that respect. In the case of the one hundred and twenty that got the notice, they hadn’t been involved in politics at all. Those were institution jobs that weren’t so glamorous that they were being politically rewarded.

In Labor and Industries also, Rosellini proceeded after the executive order was canceled to hire a bunch of people that had been previously with the Wallgren administration, safety inspectors and that sort of thing. He did that quite a bit. I can’t remember the timeframe on this, but it seems to me that the civil service initiative was finally launched successfully in 1960.

Mr. Scott: That’s correct.

Mr. Schut: And Rosellini came in office in’57, didn’t he?

Mr. Scott: That’s right.

Mr. Schut: Next, we negotiated with him about the exemptions from civil service in the executive branch of government, so that he wouldn’t be opposed to the Civil Service Initiative. He had a lot of his people appointed, so they would get grandfathered into that Civil Service Initiative. In the case of the Department of Institutions, there were only two exemptions from civil service. That was the Director of Institutions and his confidential secretary. The person who insisted on it and got away with it with Rosellini was Dr. Garrett Heyns.

He said, “I’ve had a belly full of the political patronage crap I’ve had to put up with already here. I don’t want anymore of it, and as far as I’m concerned, I only want myself and my confidential secretary exempted, and I want to be able to hire everybody else on the basis of merit. That means I can recruit legitimately. People will know that they’re going to be considered and evaluated based on their qualifications for the job.” He was talking about professional people primarily, in that respect.

Mr. Scott: What was the governor’s position as you were forwarding the idea of the Civil Service Initiative?

Mr. Schut: Whether it was Langlie or Rosellini, in private conversations I’ve had with both of them, they both said they had to be careful because of political problems they’ve had over the civil service issue within their own parties. If I were to be successful in getting civil service established in the state of Washington, it would be the biggest damn favor I ever did for them because they got into more trouble as a chief executive over the political appointments they made that went sour than on anything else. This would take them out from under one hell of a lot of pressure.

If they could say to the central committee in a given county, or the political campaign workers, “Look, you know it’s out of my hands. I can’t control this. I’ll make good recommendations for you, but you’ve got to take the examination, you’ve got to be rated, you’ve got to compete, and you’ll be hired based on your merit. If there are three qualified people for that position and one of them is a Democrat, I‘m going to do everything I can to see that the Democrat gets appointed, but you’ve got to be qualified.”

Mr. Scott: Langlie had initiated some civil service procedures by executive order. Governor Rosellini canceled those, at least. Both men were not unfavorable to civil service, but were they under political constraints, and thus not full supporters?

Mr. Schut: What they would tell me privately was that civil service was the best instrument they had available to hide behind, to get out from under all of that political pressure of political jobs. People who worked in campaigns would take a state payroll, then go down and look at salaries. They’d pick a salary they’d like, and see what the title was with it. They would convince themselves they were qualified for that job, and then they would make a run for it.

I ran into that same thing with Congressman Tollefson where the postmaster jobs were political patronage. The congressman had the control over that within his own congressional district. That’s not true anymore at all. And you know what happened? Like Sumner, there were five people who were contestants for that postmaster’s job. All five had been people who had been helpful to the congressman, but only one of them could get the appointment. As soon as that one got the appointment, he was going to be a damn good postmaster, he couldn’t get involved in any politics anymore, and you lost him. Then the other four were madder than hell at you because they didn’t get the appointment. Both of these governors told me privately on more than one occasion, patronage was a bitch. It was the worst thing they had to deal with. They liked some leeway in the very top jobs but as far as the rank-and-file and middle income positions went, they were happy to see civil service come.



For an overview of the history of civil service reform in Washington State view the following documents located to the left:

Anderson, Frank, “A History of Personnel Systems for Washington State,” Washington State Department of Personnel, 1989

Beckett, Paul, “Operation Self-Help, Washington State’s New Merit System Law” Public Personnel Review, January 1963


“Bill Provides New Merit System,” The Seattle Times, February 20, 1957


Civil service reform is extensively discussed in “Rosellini: Immigrants’ Son and Progressive Governor,” by Payton Smith, published in 1997 by University of Washington Press.


Schurr, Paul, “A Selected History of AFSCME, WFSE, and Local 1488,” The Workers and Unions of UW,

“Marching to the Future, The first 50 years of WFSE/AFSCME” The Washington Federation of State Employees,