OLYMPIA – With a photo of Bob McCaslin propped up near his old desk on the Senate floor and his family watching from the gallery, the 30-year veteran of the Washington state Senate was praised Friday for an ability to ease tension with a well-timed joke and keep colleagues on track with encyclopedic knowledge of the rules.
McCaslin, who was the most senior member of the Senate until he resigned this month for health reasons, was described by Republicans and Democrats alike as a mentor, a raconteur and a friend. 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 that the Spokane Valley Republican was the only remaining member of the Senate who served in the last big economic downturn, in 1981-’82.
McCaslin, 84, resigned on Jan. 4, was hospitalized last week for circulatory problems and had a leg amputated this week. But he’s “doing better each day,” said his son Bob, who was among family members in the gallery for the tribute.
He was the master of a well-timed story or joke, said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. “Bob was always the one who, when things were going badly in caucus, could get things calmed down. … 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 said he 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.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said McCaslin proposed the second time they met. She told him no because the first time they’d met, he’d proposed to the woman she was with.
He had a reputation for 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,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who came close to tears during her tribute. “He hated Growth Management. And you know what, Bob, you were right about some of it.”
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said when he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee, it was McCaslin who would sometimes whisper helpful hints on how to run the panel. “He helped me become a better chairman. … He helped a young Democrat become a better legislator.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane, said they didn’t agree on many issues but found ways to work together for things important to Spokane. She added she’ll 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.”