As a physician, John Moyer had a soft voice and a calm bedside manner that brought thousands of Spokane’s babies into the world. As a legislator, he helped set Washington on the road to making sure all of its children would have health care.
Moyer, who represented two Spokane legislative districts over a 10-year stretch, died last week from complications of Parkinson’s disease at 92.
“He was a wonderful, kind-hearted guy,” state Sen. Mike Padden said Tuesday. “He wasn’t a natural when it came to politics.”
Padden said he spent years trying to persuade Moyer, who was his wife Laura’s doctor, to run for office during visits whenever they were expecting a baby. Moyer was at various times president of the Spokane and Washington medical societies, and active in many community organizations. He also was a Republican in the 6th District, which had long-serving GOP legislators. But as the Paddens had their first four children, Moyer declined.
In 1986, however, Moyer was retiring from his full-time ob-gyn practice after 30 years and some 7,500 deliveries, and the 6th District went through a major shift. Sam Guess, a 24-year Senate veteran, and Dick Bond, a six-term House member, both retired and the remaining House member, Jim West, ran for the Senate.
Moyer entered the race for Bond’s old seat against Democrat Jan Polek, who operated the YWCA’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program. The hard-fought campaign wound up as one of the closest in Spokane history. Polek was 126 votes ahead on election night at a time when most ballots were cast at polling places. But Moyer won by 56 votes when the absentees were counted two weeks later. Analysts said the race hinged on the women’s vote, and some people joked that what tipped the balance for Moyer were the babies he’d delivered who were now old enough to vote.
Moyer and Padden served together in the House, and Moyer was on hand when Laura Padden delivered her fifth baby in Olympia in 1987.
“There was no kinder soul than John Moyer,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who served with Moyer in the House, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “He spoke every day in the state legislature about breaking down the Cascade Curtain and making sure our economic development strategies benefited Spokane.”
Gloria Glorfield, Moyer’s longtime legislative aide, said he felt responsible for getting things done on health care, for children and for rural communities. She called him one of the most unusual and nicest men she ever met, a person respectful of everyone and everything, who could draw people out with a quip or a joke.
“They said in Olympia if John Moyer gives you his word you could take it to the bank.”
In 1991, Washington’s legislative boundaries were redrawn and Moyer found himself a few blocks inside the heavily Democratic 3rd Legislative District, which represents central Spokane.
“He didn’t move. The district’s boundaries moved,” said Lisa Brown, a former legislator and now chancellor at Washington State University-Spokane. There was talk that West, who captured the Senate seat in 1986, had a hand in that bit of gerrymandering; West never admitted it, but did say once he thought Moyer might have been the only Republican who could win in the 3rd that year.
It was a good year for Democrats in most of Washington, and they took control of the state Senate. But Moyer beat Bill Day, a Democratic House member. Brown was elected that year to the House and recalls Moyer as a leading voice for the First Steps program, the forerunner of current children’s health programs that put Washington in the forefront of states making sure all of its children had health care.
“He had the credibility to talk about it,” Brown said. “He was the voice on that (Republican) side of the aisle.”
In 1996, Brown ran against Moyer for the Senate seat and beat him in what turned into an acrimonious battle.
“What I remember most about that race is that when it was over, we became friends again,” she said. Moyer would check in with her from time to time for updates on programs involving health care and children.
He also volunteered his time at a health clinic in Othello, served on the advisory board for the Washington State Basic Health Plan and many Spokane-area boards including the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and its foundation board, the Children’s Home Society of Washington, Friends of the Falls and the Historic Cannon Addition neighborhood steering committee.
Moyer’s first wife, Caroline, died in the early 1980s. He is survived by his second wife of 27 years, Joanne Moyer, and his 10 children. A memorial service is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Friday at Hamblen Presbyterian Church.
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