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Landmarks: Modest crypt for former governor

THURSDAY, FEB. 16, 2012

Hay got a lot done during short time in office

As gravesites for notable individuals go, the one for former Washington Gov. Marion Hay is rather modest. In the crypt section of the mausoleum at Spokane’s Riverside Memorial Terrace, the marker simply states “Marion E. Hay 1865-1933.”

Rob Goff, manager at the cemetery, said that markings on crypts tend to be pretty plain, whereas gravestones allow for additional notations desired by families. Even so, the marker for Washington’s seventh governor could have read “Gov. Marion E. Hay,” but it doesn’t, and there doesn’t seem to be any documentation explaining the excessive simplicity of the marker for this former chief executive of the state.

So, who was Hay? Born in Adams County, Wis., the year the Civil War ended, he attended business college in Iowa before migrating in 1888 to Washington Territory, where he came to own several businesses in Davenport and Wilbur (and a wheat ranch in Canada). He was chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Central Committee, 1898-1902, and served as Wilbur’s mayor for two terms. After moving to Spokane in 1908, he was elected lieutenant governor, and upon the death of Gov. Samuel E. Cosgrove in 1909, he became governor, serving until defeated in the 1912 election. He then returned to Eastern Washington to manage his various business interests and serve as chairman of the 12th District Regional Agricultural Credit Corporation. He died in Spokane in 1933.

Hay prided himself on being a “businessman governor” and made a commitment to efficiency. He was particularly focused on misdeeds by government officials, notably in the state offices of the lands commission and insurance department, and even called a special session of the legislature to investigate and impeach corrupt officials. Although holding the governorship for a relatively short time, Hay presided over some significant milestones in the state.

He supported amendments to the state constitution to allow initiatives, referendums and recall of public officials. He signed legislation in 1911 authorizing the establishment of public port districts, which ended private monopoly control of urban harbors, an act hailed by populist and progressive reformers of the time. (Seattle and Grays Harbor created the state’s first port districts that very same year.)

He also signed the Permanent Highway Act into law, transferring greater control of road construction from the counties to the state. That act created a permanent fund for construction of hard-surfaced roads between trade centers, which aided commerce through the creation of reliable permanent roads to replace the wooden culverts and earth roads that existed previously in many places.

He championed state control of natural resources, and under his administration Washington emerged as the only predominantly Republican state opposing federal conservation policies. He was a strong supporter of voting rights for women – and during his administration, women’s suffrage was enacted, as was the workman’s compensation law.

There are two other things to note about Hay. First, he was one of just three lieutenant governors in the state’s history to rise to the position of governor. And second has to do with the matter of his residence.

The Governor’s Mansion in Olympia was built in 1908 on a portion of the 12 acres of land donated as a site for the state’s capital. The following year Hay and his family were the first occupants of the 19-room mansion, which has served as the official residence of the state’s chief executive ever since. The Hay’s youngest child, Margaret, was born at the mansion in 1911, the first and only baby ever born there.

Hay promoted a reform agenda during his administration, especially where it concerned moral issues, and it appears he got a lot done. But walking by his crypt, you’d never get a sense of who he was or what he did – or that he was once the most powerful official in the state.

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