OLYMPIA — With a photo of Bob McCaslin propped up near his old desk and his family in the gallery, the Washington state Senate’s most senior member was praised for his ability to make his colleagues laugh with a well-timed joke and keep them on track with encyclopedic knowledge of the rules.
McCaslin, whose 30 years made him the most senior member of the Senate until he resigned this month for health reason, was described by Republicans and Democrats alike as a mentor to new legislators. In a tribute that lasted for nearly an hour, members on both sides of the aisle said his humor and historical knowledge may be needed more than ever this year.
“We’re going to miss Bob McCaslin’s institutional memory as we deal with this crisis,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said, noting the Spokane Valley veteran was the only remaining member of the Senate who served in the last big economic downturn of 1981-82.
McCaslin who is 84, was hospitalized last week for circulatory problems and had a leg amputated this week. But he’s “doing better each day”, his son Bob, who was in the gallery for the tribute, said.
McCaslin was the master of a well-timed story or joke, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said. “Bob was always the one who, when things were going badly in caucus, could get things…he’d tell a little story.”
Some senators joked about his reputation as the Republican caucus’s “most eligible bachelor”, who as he got older didn’t mind being set up on a date as long as it was with someone who could drive at night. “We looked for interns who had really nice grandmothers with a driver’s license,” Schoesler joked.
He had a reputation of killing bills that came to the Senate from the House, and Senate bills from Democratic members.
“He always killed my bills. He said you work too hard, but we don’t need all these things,” Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said. “He hated Growth Management. And you know what Bob, you were right about some of it.”
They didn’t agree on many issues but found ways to work together for things important to Spokane like the Mirabeau Point, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, who added she’d miss their “entertaining exchanges.”
McCaslin was so skilled at debating a point that an opponent wouldn’t immediately realize he was being skewered, said Lt. Gov. Brad Owen who serves as president of the Senate. “He is the only senator so far to tell the president he’s wrong without the president knowing it until he got back to his office.”
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